Over 60% of people aged over 65 suffer from osteoarthritis. In England this equates to about 8 million people. It is the most common joint disorder. Affecting mainly the hand, foot, knee or hip joints. Risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age, increased weight and previous joint injury. It is a progressive and chronic disease that means years of life lived with pain and disability.
Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis asscoaited with wear and tear. Cartilage covers the ends of bones that forms the joint. It should be smooth but can become damaged and roughened. Damaged cartilage may thin out and expose bone. When bones rub together in the joint it causes inflammation and pain.
People with chronic osteoarthritis describe the pain as a constant, dull ache. Sometimes there are episodes of sharp pain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs are commonly used medications for osteoarthritis. They include; high dose aspirin, though not low dose aspirin; ibuprofen; naproxen and diclofenac. These medicines do not cure the condition but do help to mask the symptoms.
The NSAIDs are not always effective for pain relief. And they also can have serious side effects such as increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Along with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. So, a European review looked into NSAIDs use. It recommended the lowest effective dose, for the shortest possible time. But as we know, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition, requiring ongoing treatment.
There is also evidence that NSAIDs damage cartilage in the joints. In effect, taking the NSAIDs for pain relief makes the osteoarthritis worse.
While surgery is an option, it is usually not offered to younger people. And, this can mean years of ‘watchful waiting’. Even then, one study showed that 5 years after surgery up to 14% of people still had pain.
Paracetamol is sometimes used as an alternative to NSAIDs. It is safe for most people, but can have serious side effects if taken in excess of the recommended dose. And interactions with other medications can occur.
Scientists developed another class of drugs, the COX-2 inhibitors. This was designed as an alternative to NSAIDs. But these drugs also increased the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Topical NSAIDs are a useful alternative for some people. And they have less risk of side effects. But the lack of safe and effective medicine means many turn to complementary health.
Natural Remedies for Osteoarthritis
Trials show that natural remedies and alternative treatments are safe and effective. Studies show that they are at least as effective as NSAIDs for osteoarthritis. Yet they have fewer side effects, are well tolerated and slow the progression of disease.
There are many herbal medicines that show benefits in trials, for use in osteoarthritis. Here are some of them:
Turmeric suppresses inflammation, and decreases pain. It is also a strong antioxidant that helps to reduce damage to the joint.
Celery seed is at least as effective as ibuprofen and naproxen in trials. It reduces inflammation and relieves pain. It also protects against the gastrointestinal irritation of NSAIDs.
Devil’s claw is anti-inflammatory and pain relieving for acute and chronic joint pain.
Cat’s claw contains powerful antioxidants that relieve inflammation. It is often used in the complementary treatment of osteoarthritis.
Frankincense the ancient medicine mentioned several times in the Bible. It relieves the pain of arthritis and improves joint function.
Herbal medicines are often combined into a formula. A study showed that herbal formulas prescribed by trained herbalists are effective. Osteoarthritis of the knee was significantly improved by individually prescribed treatment following a consultation.
Other complementary therapies also help to relieve osteoarthritis. Spinal manipulation therapies such as osteopathy and chiropractic are helpful. And acupuncture, which is the most commonly used alternative therapy for osteoarthritis.
Scientific trials support the pain relief provided by acupuncture. The relief persisted at between 50 and 90% improvement at 12 months after the course of treatment. Pain relief from acupuncture was superior to that of physiotherapy. Acupuncture also promotes repair of cartilage and improves joint function. It is also safe to use alongside medicines from the doctor or herbal remedies.
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