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Alternative Ways to Easing Arthritis Pain

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

Because the quality of herbs and supplements can vary, even some of these treatments might not work, cautions Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com.

ConsumerLab.com reviewed supplement products touted for their pain-relieving benefits. It found that one product, claiming to contain 500 milligrams per serving of "chondroitin sulfate complex" actually contained less than 90 milligrams of chondroitin sulfate -- only 18% of the 500 milligrams.

"Fortunately, most products contain what they claim," says Cooperman. "But consumers should choose their supplements wisely. If a product is not working, it may be the product itself that is flawed, and not the approach."

Useless, Dangerous Remedies?

There are a number of other alternative remedies that arthritis sufferers try.

Many of those -- such as copper bracelets or magnets -- may not have much, if any, scientific evidence to back them up or disprove them. Indeed, Kerry Ludlam, a spokeswoman for the Arthritis Foundation, reports that there is a lack of research both for and against the usefulness of alternative therapies.

"There's a void of information," she says. Since many of the alternative therapies cited for the relief of arthritis are considered harmless (other than perhaps to your pocketbook), many doctors say that if you want to try them, go ahead.

Other therapies, however, can be dangerous.

Bee venom could cause a potentially fatal reaction in those allergic to stinging insects. And even glucosamine, generally safe for most people, could be dangerous for people allergic to shellfish. (Shellfish-free glucosamine is now available.) For these reasons, it's important to check with your doctor first before trying any alternative treatment.

It's also important to note that herbs and supplements may have unknown and potentially dangerous interactions with medication. If you're taking medication, it's best to check with your doctor before trying any supplements.

Getting Started

Though more and more doctors are themselves investigating the benefits of alternative therapies and have no objections if their patients try some, most of them still suggest first following the medical guidelines for the treatment of osteoarthritis released by the American College of Rheumatology and the American Pain Society.

Begin with treatments such as exercise and weight loss, the guidelines advise, in combination with over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed by your personal physician.

"Try the simplest and cheapest regimen first," says Litman. "That should be your first line of defense."

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Edited by Louise Chang, MD on September 21, 2006

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