- Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
- Other Proposed Natural Treatments
- Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in joints has become damaged, disrupting the smooth gliding motion of the joint surfaces. The result is pain, swelling, and deformity.
The pain of osteoarthritis typically increases with joint use and improves at rest. For reasons that aren’t clear, although x-rays can find evidence of arthritis, the level of pain and stiffness experienced by people does not match the extent of injury noticed on x-rays.
Many theories exist about the causes of osteoarthritis, but we don’t really know what causes the disease. Osteoarthritis is often described as “wear and tear” arthritis. However, evidence suggests that this simple explanation is not correct. For example, osteoarthritis frequently develops in many joints at the same time, often symmetrically on both sides of the body, even when there is no reason to believe that equal amounts of wear and tear are present. Another intriguing finding is that osteoarthritis of the knee is commonly (and mysteriously) associated with osteoarthritis of the hand. These factors, as well as others, have led to the suggestion that osteoarthritis may actually be a body-wide disease of the cartilage.
During one’s lifetime, cartilage is constantly being turned over by a balance of forces that both break down and rebuild it. One prevailing theory suggests that osteoarthritis may represent a situation in which the degrading forces get out of hand. Some of the proposed natural treatments for osteoarthritis described later may inhibit enzymes that damage cartilage.
When the cartilage damage in osteoarthritis begins, the body responds by building new cartilage. For several years, this compensating effort can keep the joint functioning well. Some of the natural treatments described below appear to work by assisting the body in repairing cartilage. Eventually, however, building forces cannot keep up with destructive ones, and what is called end-stage osteoarthritis develops. This is the familiar picture of pain and impaired joint function.
The conventional medical treatment for osteoarthritis consists mainly of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen and Celebrex. The main problem with anti-inflammatory drugs is that they can cause ulcers. Another possible problem is that they may actually speed the progression of osteoarthritis by interfering with cartilage repair and promoting cartilage destruction. 1-5 In contrast, two of the treatments described below might actually slow the course of the disease, although this has not been proven.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Several natural treatments for osteoarthritis have a meaningful, though not definitive, body of supporting evidence indicating that they can reduce pain and improve function. In addition, there is some evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin might offer the additional benefit of helping to prevent progressive joint damage.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat osteoarthritis. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.