How do knee arthritis natural treatments stack up? Can you protect the knee cartilage you have? Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin have shown in some studies that they can help protect cartilage. Exercise has also shown some protective effects. How about when you compare the two head to head in a small study? At least in one recent study, exercise seems to win.
To review, the cartilage in your knees acts as the cushion for the joint. Arthritis is when you begin to lose this cartilage. So keeping the cartilage you have may be important.
Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin have been promoted as treatments for arthritis. While there are some studies that show these supplements can help pain and function, there’s also some convincing research showing that they likely help preserve cartilage. For example, certain types of glucosamine may work better for preserving cartilage while others may work better for pain.
Exercise has also been promoted as a treatment for arthritis. Some studies also show that it helps pain and function. There’s also research that seems to show running prevents arthritis. However, other research shows that things like running may lead to more arthritis.
Now a new small study compares the two therapies head to head. One group of 40 patients with knee arthritis took 1,500 mg a day of glucosamine/chondroitin and the other group of 30 similar patients performed home exercises for the knee. Both groups used these treatment regimens for 6 months and both had equal improvements in pain and function. However, the cartilage loss on MRI was different. The only one that worked to help cartilage loss was the exercise.
The upshot? While this study disagrees with the conclusions of other studies that show positive MRI changes with glucosamine/chondroitin, it’s important in that it compares a supplement to exercise. In summary, exercise is good stuff for patients with mild knee arthritis. There’s may be no pill that can replace it!