Janice Bennett and Nathan Livingston
Whether youre at work or getting some much-needed R & R, theres one physical condition that is a guaranteed killjoy: joint pain.
Whether you’re at work or getting some much-needed R & R, there’s one physical condition that is a guaranteed killjoy: joint pain.
From uncomfortable and annoying to painful and debilitating, joint pain afflicts over four million Canadians. That’s about one in every six people – and countless moving parts – that seem to get creakier with every passing year. Trevor Birmingham, chair of musculoskeletal rehabilitation in the Canada Research Chair program, states that “musculoskeletal conditions are the leading cause of pain, physical disability, and health care utilization in Canada.”
However, researchers are finding that alternative medicine pain relievers and supplements can offer safe solutions for those who wish to avoid the serious side effects of conventional anti-inflammatory drugs.
Three Heavy Hitters
Among the best known, most controversial, and heavily researched natural joint remedies are glucosamine, chondroitin, and methylsulphonylmethane (MSM). All have been tested for claims of reducing pain and slowing the progression of osteoarthritis. Several research findings have shown that dietary supplementation of 1,500 mg of glucosamine daily (500 mg three times daily) with 1,200 mg of chondroitin sulphate (400 mg three times daily) for at least 24 weeks may be effective in reducing moderate to severe joint pain.
A 2004 placebo-controlled study of glucosamine and MSM, alone and in combination, showed that these substances performed better than placebo. Researchers noted a significant decrease in swelling and pain in both the glucosamine- and MSM-only groups; however, results were greater in the MSM plus glucosamine group.
Rub It On or Spice It Up
A 2004 review of research on the use of topical pain remedies for joint pain showed that they are not only normally safe to use but showed efficacy of up to 50 percent for moderate to severe pain. In the review, remedies were divided into three types: NSAIDs, salicylates, and capsaicin-based topical treatments.
Several different NSAIDs were tested, including a homeopathic gel. The study found that topical treatments did not cause adverse effects on the stomach and kidneys, a risk carried by almost all oral NSAIDs.
Methyl salicylate, also known as salicylic acid methyl ester, is found in the oils of wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and birch (Betula). Other herbal ingredients used in traditional topical remedies to temporarily alleviate joint pain include cloves, garlic, ginger, horseradish, and oil of rosemary.
Capsaicin, derived from chili peppers, is also found in many topical ointments. It relieves joint pain by causing numbness and producing a sensation of heat on the skin. For a short time, nerves around the treated area are less able to send or receive pain signals.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is finding its way off the spice rack and into the lab. Now being reconsidered by the medical community as a possible reliever of joint pain, turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine since ancient times. Researchers have recently established that dosages as high as 3.6 g daily showed no ill effect. However, those with stomach ulcers and pregnant and nursing women should avoid using turmeric medicinally.
The Tinman was Right
A little oil can keep you moving down the yellow brick road! Essential fatty acids, including omega-6 and omega-3, have been shown in numerous reviews to decrease joint pain and stiffness because of their anti-inflammatory properties. However, there is some debate over the best dietary sources.
There are several oil blends on the market that combine flax, hemp, and other seeds high in omegas, as well as algal supplements extracted from marine plants. Whether you choose fish or vegetable sources, whole, unadulterated food is always the safest bet. Fresh fish (as opposed to canned) and whole seeds packed in airtight containers are great sources of the omegas you need.
Nutritional supplements for osteoarthritis
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate
Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM
Turmeric and curcumin
Complementary medicine for musculoskeletal conditions
Complementary medicine for osteoarthritis