Alternative Ways to Easing Arthritis Pain (cont.)

The University of Maryland School of Medicine recently 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.

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 also being studied for their effectiveness in treating arthritis.

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.

An article published in 2001 in the medical journal Lancet, for example, reported the results of a three-year study that followed 212 arthritis sufferers. The survey participants were divided into two groups, with one group given 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine daily for three years; the other group was given a daily placebo for three years.

The group given the glucosamine showed little or no deterioration in joints, while the group given the placebo showed the joint deterioration expected of arthritis sufferers.

After further follow-up, a recent study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, found that those in the glucosamine group had 74% fewer knee replacements.

Erin Arnold, MD, recommends not only glucosamine sulfate for her patients (1,500 milligrams a day, taken in two to three doses a day), but also 400-800 international units of vitamin D. Arnold is a rheumatologist at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute in Chicago.