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Osteoarthritis Pain Relief Remedies

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Updated April 23, 2014

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects the knees, hips, back, and small joints in the fingers.

Osteoarthritis affects over 20 million people in the United States, a figure that is expected to double in the next 20 years.

Osteoarthritis Pain Relief Remedies

Here are five natural remedies that are used to provide pain relief for people with osteoarthritis.

1) Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables

Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables are one of the most promising arthritis remedies. Four high-quality clinical trials suggest that avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, an extract made from avocado and soybean oils, can improve the pain and stiffness of knee and hip osteoarthritis and reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It appears to have decrease inflammation and stimulate cartilage repair.

In France, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables have been approved as a prescription drug. In other countries, it is available as a supplement in some health food stores or online.

A typical dose is 300 milligrams per day. It usually takes between two weeks and two months to take effect. Studies have found no additional benefit with higher doses.

Eating avocado and soy, even in large amounts, will not provide enough of the unsaponifiables to have a therapeutic effect. Only 1/100th of the oil is the unsaponifiable portion.

The safety of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables has not been established in children, pregnant or nursing women.

2) Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

At least 5 million people in the United States take glucosamine or chondroitin alone or in combination. Glucosamine is used to make a molecule involved in the formation and repair of cartilage, the rubbery substance that cushions joints. Although it's still not clear exactly how glucosamine in pill-form works, it's believed to allow more of cartilage building blocks to be made. Chondroitin sulfate appears to to block cartilage-destroying enzymes and help joint cartilage remain elastic and supple.

Studies with glucosamine have found a reduction in the pain, stiffness, and swelling of arthritis. It is also thought to prevent structural damage to joints. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, participants took glucosamine or placebo for three years and were x-rayed each year to assess structural changes. Participants who took the placebo had progressive joint space narrowing, a sign of cartilage degeneration, but those who took glucosamine had no significant narrowing of joint spaces.

The dose used in studies is 1500 mg glucosamine sulfate and 800 to 1200 mg chondroitin sulfate. It's important to choose glucosamine sulfate, rather than hydrochloride, because many of the clinical studies have used the sulfate form. It usually takes 1 to 3 months to take effect. Side effects may include mild stomach discomfort, which can be alleviated by taking glucosamine with meals. Some glucosamine supplements are derived from the shells of crabs and other shellfish, so people with shellfish allergies should ensure they use synthetic glucosamine.

3) Acupuncture

The World Health Organization has identified more than 40 conditions that acupuncture can treat, including osteoarthritis. Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin needles into acupoints in the body. It is believed to rebalance the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. Studies have found that acupuncture releases natural pain-relieving substances such as endorphins and serotonin.

A study involving 294 people with osteoarthritis knee pain found that after eight weeks of treatment, participants who had acupuncture experienced a significant improvement in pain and joint function compared to those who had sham acupuncture or placebo.

4) Yoga

Although many people think yoga involves twisting your body into pretzel-like poses, yoga can be safe and effective for people with osteoarthritis. Yoga's gentle movements can keep build strength, flexibility, and balance and reduce arthritis pain and stiffness.

A pilot study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine examined one type of yoga, Iyengar yoga, for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. After an 8-week course of weekly 90-minute beginner classes, there was a statistically significant reduction in pain, physical function, and mood.

If you have osteoarthritis, it's important to take some simple precautions before trying yoga.
  • Talk with your doctor and ask about any restrictions.
  • Look for a teacher who has worked with people with arthritis and can suggest modifications for you. Some hospitals and community centers offer yoga classes geared to people with arthritis.
  • Visit the Yoga GuideSite on About.com to find out where to begin.

5) Massage Therapy

Massage can help to relieve muscle tension associated with osteoarthritis. Joint pain can cause surrounding muscles to become tense. Massage boosts circulation to the affected joint, which decreases joint stiffness and promotes cartilage repair. Massage therapists do this not by directly massaging an inflamed joint, but the muscles surrounding the joint.

Massage can also prevent muscle spasms in other parts of the body. Osteoarthritis is usually one-sided, which can make muscles elsewhere tense as they try to compensate for the weakened joint.
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