Using herbal medicine to treat osteoarthritis

There are many herbal medicinal products available that are said can help build up the cartilage. (Cartilage is what is affected by osteoarthritis.) Some popular examples are glucosamine, rose hip powder, and green-lipped mussel. It also thought that certain spices, like turmeric, can reduce the stiffness that accompanies this joint disease. All these substances are sold separately or in a combination as medicines for treating osteoarthritis. However, it is important to remember that there is currently no product available that can cure the actual underlying condition of osteoarthritis.

Are herbal medicinal products helpful in treating osteoarthritis?

There are a number of different herbal medicinal products sold as medicines for treating osteoarthritis. They all have one thing in common: their effect has not been scientifically proven. There are no rigorously conducted scientific studies available that support the conclusion that herbal medicinal products can reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis. The benefit that some people feel when they take rose hip powder, for instance, is most likely the placebo effect. (“Placebo” is a Latin phrase meaning “I will please”. This refers to the fact that a person feels better after taking a pill even though it is actually ineffective.) The placebo effect can be very strong. These herbal medicinal products also have weak anti-inflammatory properties, which can have some effect in the case of osteoarthritis. However, it is not clear how much they really help due to the lack of studies on the subject.

In Sweden care providers must deal with evidence-based medicines by law. This means that the care must be provided on the basis of scientific evidence and proven experience. As there is no scientifically proven effect, doctors should not recommend herbal medicinal products as a medicine for treating osteoarthritis. On the other hand, there is no need to advise people against taking the products as they are harmless. If someone feels that their symptoms improve when they take herbal medicinal products, science does not come into this. Most of these substances largely come with no side effects, so if you feel that it has a positive impact on your joint pain and its movement, you can decide yourself whether you want to take them.

What alternatives are available to herbal medicinal products?

There is currently no medication available that can cure osteoarthritis, whether a herbal medicinal product or registered medicine. The basic treatment involves instead a personalized, supervised exercise program, preferably combined with education about the disease. This is available from the osteoarthritis classes held around Sweden. They are run by physiotherapists and offer the opportunity to exercise in a group along with others also suffering from osteoarthritis. Another alternative is the online treatment for osteoarthritis offered by Joint Academy. This is an app that provides personalized exercises and education.

If anyone affected is in so much pain that they find it difficult to cope with exercising, pain relievers can be taken. In this case, easier, over-the-counter medicines (e.g. Alvedon or Naprosyn) are available. This should not be regarded as a form of treatment, but only as a means of complementing exercising. The same applies to cortisone injections, which can provide short-term pain relief.

You can find more information here about using glucosamine to treat osteoarthritis.