Medically reviewed by
Dr. Michael Sutton
It’s a common site on commercial TV, especially national news shows where the audience is a “more mature” demographic: commercials that mention joint pain along with the terms “glucosamine” and “chondroitin.”
“Glucosamine is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage, especially around joints,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Michael Sutton. “Chondroitin is a major component of cartilage that helps is retain water. It’s been helpful for joint pain in horses and dogs. So, I guess it’s natural that people might think it would work for humans. However, with people, the answer is more like it depends.”
There’s quite a bit of promotion and research on these two supplements as treatments for joint pain. The promotion is clear cut. The research, not so much.
What the Research Says
- The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons does NOT recommend the two supplements for osteoarthritis of the knee.
- The prestigious New England Journal of Medicinereported a study of 1,500 participants with knee osteoporosis. Results showed individuals with mild pain did not see much benefit. However, people with severe pain experienced modest relief with a combination of the supplements.
- The National Institutes of Health points to more than 20 studies of varying quality on the effect of chondroitin for pain from knee or hip osteoarthritis. It notes that the largest and best studies show that the supplement does NOT lessen pain from osteoarthritis.
- A study that appeared in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseasesfound that the supplements relieve pain for some people — but over time they were no more effective than a placebo (sugar pill). As a result, the American College of Rheumatology does not recommend either supplement for the initial treatment of osteoarthritis, a main cause of joint pain leading to joint replacement.
Options for You
- Lose Weight. For every pound you lose, you’re removing 4 pounds of pressure on your knees.
- Exercise. Walking, swimming, water aerobics, bike riding and other low-impact exercise helps you reduce pain, increase flexibility and lose weight.
- Medications. Over-the-counter medications, such as generic or trade name ibuprofen (Advil) and generic or trade name naproxen (Aleve) reduce pain more than unregulated supplements.
Action You Can Take
You don’t have to live with knee or hip pain from osteoporosis. See an Orthopedic Specialist to determine the cause and devise a course of treatment, ranging from nonsurgical to total joint replacement.
Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, Consumer Reports, NPR, Harvard Medical School, National Institutes of Health, Arthritis Foundation