Several different types of drugs can be prescribed for joint pain, however more and more studies are proving that joint supplements can be an equally effective treatment, but without unwanted and sometimes dangerous side-effects. And even if you do take prescription meds for pain and/or arthritis, if you were to also take the appropriate supplements concurrently, you may be able to gradually reduce your meds.
Common Prescriptions and OTC Drugs for Joint Pain:
- Analgesics such as acetaminophen, Tramadol, or narcotics which may contain hydrocodone or oxycodone. These medications may reduce pain but have no anti-inflammatory properties.
- NSAIDS which include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. These types of medications have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Counterirritants are creams and ointments applied topically such as Icy Hot or BenGay.
- DMARDS (Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic rugs) will slow or stop the immune system response in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Examples include methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine.
- Biologic response modifiers which are also involved in immune system responses such as etanercept or infliximab. These are usually used in conjunction with DMARDS.
- Corticosteroids such as prednisone and cortisone.
Complications from drugs, especially when taken long-term, can have mild to severe side-effects ranging from liver problems and opiate addiction to a drastically compromised immune system.
Causes of Chronic Joint Pain
There are many different diseases and syndromes that can cause joint pain which may include the following:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Lyme Disease
There are others too. Though the causes may be different, the symptoms are often the similar. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a good doctor who is willing to look at potential underlying causes for some of these conditions. When the underlying cause is located and treated successfully, the symptoms usually disappear.
Oftentimes though, the cause is either unknown or it can’t be treated, but there are many things that we can do to manage and greatly improve the symptoms. A multi-faceted approach often works best such as changing the diet to include healthier foods and exercising. Taking joint supplements can also help tremendously, and usually without the side effects associated with long-term drug use. I’ve compiled a list to help you navigate through the different products that are out there so you can determine which ones may be right for you.
Please note that I am not a doctor. I suffer from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis and have experienced my share of pain. Therefore I have done a tremendous amount of research and/or tried many different supplements which have helped me. Always consult with your own doctor before beginning any new supplement regime to make sure there are no interactions with any current medications.
Various types of alternative medicines and joint supplements have been used for years to help with pain and inflammation, but it’s only in recent years that valid studies have been done on their effectiveness and safety. Fortunately, many of these are either as effective or more effective than the above-mentioned drugs and come with fewer or no side-effects.
Let me also put a plug in for researching the quality of these supplements. There are a lot of brands and products on the market that make bold promises or have flashy marketing campaigns. The quality of these supplements can vary greatly. Do your homework. Look for supplements that are tested by a reputable third party for quality. Look for ones that have literally hundreds or thousands of honest reviews and are highly rated. Cheaper is not always better. But if you are going to take these, you don’t want to take something that is so low quality that it doesn’t work or doesn’t help, which then leads you to a general feeling that all joint supplements are for the birds and a waste of money.
Types of joint supplements include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are found in foods such as herring, salmon, sardines, anchovies, and other cold-water fish. They’re also found in grass-fed beef and other types of meets as well as some vegetables. Omega-3 fats include EPA and DHA amino acids which can drastically reduce inflammation levels. Because of their benefit on cardiovascular health, they also can help increase blood flow when exercising which further enhances the positive effects on joint health. Fish oil, sold in capsule form, is also an excellent way to supplement Omega-3. Dosing should include 1,000-2,000 mg per day. Some have complained that fish oil can lead to a fishy aftertaste or fishy tasting burps, so I recommend taking this with food to avoid that. Just make sure that you are taking a good-quality supplement with few additives and which has been tested for mercury. Dr. Mercola offers a very high quality wild Alaskan salmon oil in a capsule that is reasonably priced and properly tested.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial in heart health, reducing triglycerides, and supporting tissues and joints. Because they are an oily fat, they also help lubricate joints.
The effects of Omega-3s are so beneficially broad that many doctors are advising their patients to take them for many different conditions. They have gained in popularity and research studies are largely backing the benefits so much so in fact, that drug companies are looking for ways to market them. Here is an example of a study done on the effectiveness and safety of taking fish oil for osteoarthritis in the knees: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26387397.
Additionally, a meta-analysis was completed by the NIH on the benefits of fish oil with rheumatoid arthritis. This analysis confirmed that after taking fish oil for three months, there was a significant reduction in tender joints and morning stiffness. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7490601/
Glucosamine is included in many supplements and “formulas” recommended for joint health. This is also a highly studied supplement with positive results. Glucosamine hydrochloride is one form of the supplement though glucosamine sulfate has been deemed much more effective. It’s a natural component of cartilage which is located all over our bodies, but especially so around our joints. It helps to prevent bones from rubbing up against one another.
Glucosamine can also help to prevent further breakdown of cartilage when taken long-term. You should ideally take 1,500 mg daily. If it upsets your stomach, you can break that dosage down into three doses of 500 mg each.
Chondroitin is often combined with glucosamine and has many of the same benefits. It is also a building block of cartilage and may slow the progression of osteoarthritis when taken long-term. Many studies have shown its effectiveness on joint health. Optimal dosage is
There was a large meta-analysis done by the National Institute of Health on many prior studies that were completed regarding chondroitin. This analysis yielded positive results and noted that only 3% of patients studied experienced any adverse side effects compared to 6% who were taking placebo. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4881293/
Collagen is found in ligaments, skin, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, and tendons. It’s a large component of connective tissue and the most abundant protein in the human body. Think of collage as a fibrous tissue that is glue-like. In fact, the word collagen comes from the Greek word, “kolla” which means glue.
Collagen has many uses, one of which is for filler in plastic surgery. It’s injected underneath the skin to provide plumpness. It’s also used to help treat severe burns. Bone broth, which is made from boiling the bones from beef and poultry is an excellent source. Additionally, the skins from chicken and pork are also good sources. It’s also found in legumes, dairy products, and some vegetables.
Many people don’t get enough collagen in their diets because of the trend to eat leaner meats and boneless and skinless chicken. It’s actually good for you and helps your skin, teeth, and joints among many other things.
Some medical professionals scuff at the idea of taking collagen because it is found in proteins and their opinion is that if you’re getting enough protein, you should be getting enough collagen. This is because once the proteins have been broken down into the amino acids, the body can’t tell the difference of the source. However, “predigested” proteins that are already broken down are much more readily absorbed by your tissues. One study showed that people who had osteoarthritis and took collagen longer than 60 days noticed a significant improvement of pain levels, allowing them to feel better in their day to day lives: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22486722
In fact, when collagen is broken down, such as by boiling chicken bones into a bone broth or stock, it forms a gelatin. We’ve all seen that gel that forms on the top of the broth we’ve made. Some people even skim it off before using the broth, however that’s the richest source of the amino acids which make up collagen! This is called hydrolyzed gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen. It’s easy to understand then how consuming pre-digested collagen (i.e., bone broth) is easier for the body to absorb than say, eating a piece of beef with some fat still on it.
The bottom line regarding joint pain is that collagen helps to keep cartilage around the joints soft and supple and less prone to damage and becoming brittle. Cartilage helps to cushion our joints and collagen supplementation helps. It’s best to purchase hydrolyzed collagen in a pill or powder form.
As we age, our bodies produce less collagen. This is one reason why we get wrinkles and why our joints hurt! It’s also important to note though that some things that we do actually damage our collagen such as smoking, getting too much exposure to the sun, and eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
The liquid substance that keep our joints cushioned and lubricated is called synovial fluid. Osteoarthritis degrades and breaks this fluid down contributing to the degeneration associated with this disease. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found to be a critical component of synovial fluid. This acid is also used in moisturizers to help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and is also used in some skin fillers to help plump up the affected areas.
Research has shown that when injected into the synovial fluid around joints that it can provide pain relief for months. It’s also available in pill form and may be combined with glucosamine and chondroitin.
SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-Methionine) is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the liver, though as we age, production wanes. One of its roles is to help the repair of cartilage. It is becoming a more popular as a natural alternative to Celebrex because a study done in 2004 found that it improved inflammation in the joints and decreased pain levels as well as its drug counterpart. Ideal dosage is 200-400 mg up to three times per day.
Turmeric has become so increasingly popular that I’m now seeing a barrage of commercials advertising its many benefits. It can boost the immune system, but it’s also used as a joint supplement. Its main ingredient is a compound called curcumin which has anti-inflammatory effects. The research on this has been limited in that the studies have been small, however an analysis of these studies has shown that it actually improves joint pain when compared against a placebo and may be as nearly as effective as ibuprofen. Take 500 mg twice daily as needed.
Methylsulfonyl methane (MSM) has also been reported to help alleviate joint pain and morning stiffness when compared to taking a placebo. It needs to be split up into two doses per day by taking between 700 and 3000 grams at each dose. The study that I found included a group of 50 men with half taking MSM and half taking a placebo. Improvements were noted after two months for the men using the MSM.
Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
Made from avocado oil, soybean oil, and wax, this oily mixture was originally mixed with lye in an attempt to make soap, however those efforts failed. The manufactures found that the product (sans lye) was an important blocker of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body and that it helps prevent deterioration of synovial fluid cells.
The ERADIS Trial, a large study regarding ASU, published in PubMed, stated, “measured in this study, it does improve symptoms such as pain and mobility, as measured in previous studies.82 In a study of chronic nonspecific back pain, treatment with ASU (piascledine) combined with the NSAID artrosiline (320 mg/day) showed significant analgesic effect over NSAID treatment alone. The positive effect of ASU was demonstrated after 1 month of treatment. The authors suggest that further RCTs are needed to confirm results. To this end, the ERADIAS trial determined whether ASU Expanscience treatment slowed the radiological progression of hip OA.113 As for safety, none of the four RCTs reported significant differences in adverse effects between ASU and placebo”.
These results are very promising especially considering that it showed no adverse effects associated with ASU.
Devil’s Claw is made from a plant native to South Africa. The chemical that it contains is called harpogoside which has anti-inflammatory properties. It has been reviewed specifically for osteoarthritis and gout pain. It contains iridoid glycosides which have strong anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant effects and has shown some positive results. It is sold in a popular supplement called AINAT as a remedy for arthritis and contains devil’s claw, turmeric, and bromelain. It is reported to have the same pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties as an NSAID.
This can be ingested in the form of a capsule, tea, powder, or tablet. It is important to note that there can be drug interactions when used with medications for indigestion, heart issues, and diabetics. Also, this medication should not be taken with NSAIDS such as Aleve, Celebrex, Motrin, etc.
This is made from bark and the root from a vine that is native to South and Central America. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in the 2002 Journal of Rheumatology indicated that it can reduce pain and swelling by up to 50% in patients with rheumatoid arthritis!
This supplement may cause dizziness and can lower blood pressure in some people. It should not be taken by anyone already on blood pressure meds or people taking blood thinners. Additionally, it should be avoided if you are taking any drugs that suppress your immune system.
Also known as Indian Frankincense, Boswellia commonly used as a joint supplement for osteoarthritis, has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies have shown that it improves pain levels in joints when compared to a placebo. Ideally, 100-300 mg should be taken from one to three times per day.