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Alternative Ways to Easing Arthritis Pain

Experts look at the pros and cons of alternative arthritis therapies.

Sticking It to Arthritis Pain

Acupuncture is another possibility; it is a therapy that has been studied extensively. As far as we know, says Litman, it doesn't change the course of the illness. But it can be helpful in managing pain and reducing stress associated with living with the chronic condition.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine completed a four-year NIH-funded study, the largest ever undertaken, to determine how well acupuncture works. The results, published in December 2004 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that traditional Chinese acupuncture significantly reduces pain and improves function for patients with knee osteoarthritis who have moderate or more severe pain despite taking pain medication.

However, a more recent study published in the same journal in July 2006 found no significant difference in reported pain or function between patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who received acupuncture or a sham procedure.

Larry Altshuler, MD, is a board-certified internist in Oklahoma City who practices both conventional and alternative medicine. He uses acupuncture on his arthritis patients and says he was "pleasantly surprised" when his patients reported they were getting relief from their pain. "Most of my patients have had beneficial results from acupuncture," says Altshuler.

Helpful, Healthy Supplements?

Glucosamine and chondroitin are nutritional supplements that are being studied for their effectiveness in treating arthritis. While significant evidence in the past has shown the supplements work, a newer study has stirred debate in the medical community.

Could these supplements offer nothing more than a placebo for people with mild arthritis? Are they best for those with moderate to severe pain, as the new research suggests?

Jason Theodosakis, MD, says that "first-line therapies" for the treatment of arthritis should always be improving biomechanics, injury prevention, weight control, and low-impact exercise. Theodosakis is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine; he serves on the oversight committee for a $16 million NIH trial on glucosamine and chondroitin.

"But there is also enough scientific evidence -- 42 human clinical trials to date -- to recommend the use of glucosamine and chondroitin," says Theodosakis, also the author of The Arthritis Cure.

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