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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Alternative Treatments for Arthritis

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

Sticking It to Arthritis Pain continued...

A number of studies have looked at acupuncture in the two most common types of arthritis --OA and RA. The most recent review article involved 3,498 people with OA in 16 trials and found that acupuncture was superior to sham acupuncture for short-term improvements in pain and function, but that the benefits were pretty small.

"There is currently insufficient research to determine which arthritis patients benefit most from acupuncture," says review author Eric Manheimer, MS, a research associate at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Future research may be important to try to identify the optimal candidate for acupuncture on the basis of individual beliefs, expectations, and psychological profile."

Pisetsky's verdict: Give acupuncture a shot. "It may provide some temporary pain relief but does not change the course of the illness," Pisetsky says. "If you think it is beneficial, try it."

Helpful, Healthy Supplements?

Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular nutritional supplements that have been widely studied for their effectiveness in treating arthritis. While many people with arthritis and doctors stand by the supplements, the studies have not been all that kind. The latest research -- an analysis of 10 studies -- showed that glucosamine and chondroitin don't do much to relieve the pain associated with hip or knee OA, or modify the disease process once it has started.

This is not the first study to cast doubt on the effectiveness of these two supplements. The Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) also showed that these supplements did not improve knee OA pain. A follow-up arm showed that they did not do any better than placebo in slowing loss of cartilage that occurs in knee OA. That said, a smaller subset of 354 GAIT participants with moderate-to-severe OA pain did get some relief with the combined supplements. (These findings need to be confirmed in larger studies.)

Pisetsky says that it is OK to give these supplements a try.

"If you want to take them and perceive a benefit, that's fine, but tell your doctor," he says. All 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.

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