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NCCIH Clinical Digest

for health professionals

Arthritis and Complementary Health Approaches

July 2020
older man with cane walking with caregiver

This issue of the digest summarizes current research about complementary health approaches for arthritis. Research to date suggests that some mind and body practices such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and tai chi may be helpful for osteoarthritis. Despite extensive research, it’s still uncertain whether glucosamine and chondroitin have a meaningful impact on symptoms or joint structure in osteoarthritis. There is some evidence that supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), or the herb thunder god vine may help relieve some rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Condition and Summary of Current Research

Clinical practice guidelines issued by the American College of Rheumatology recommend aerobic exercise and/or strength training, weight loss (if overweight), and a number of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic modalities for treating osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, hip, or hand. The guidelines conditionally recommend tai chi, along with other non-drug approaches such as self-management programs and walking aids, for managing knee OA. Acupuncture is also conditionally recommended for those who have chronic moderate-to-severe knee pain and are candidates for total knee replacement but can’t or won’t undergo the procedure.

Despite extensive research, it’s still uncertain whether glucosamine and chondroitin have a meaningful impact on symptoms or joint structure in osteoarthritis. The evidence on other natural products is too limited for any conclusions to be reached.

 

Read more about the research on complementary health approaches for OA

Results from clinical trials suggest that some mind and body practices—such as relaxation, mindfulness meditation, tai chi, and yoga—may be beneficial additions to conventional treatment plans, but some studies indicate that these practices may do more to improve other aspects of patients’ health than to relieve pain.

Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), or the herb thunder god vine may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

 

Read more about the research on complementary health approaches for RA

Clinical Guidelines

NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH’s Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH Web site at nccih.nih.gov. NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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