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7 Things To Know About Complementary Health Approaches for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis—affecting more than 32.5 million U.S. adults. It becomes more common as people grow older, and it occurs more often in women than men, especially after age 50. The most commonly affected joints include the hands, knees, hips, neck, and lower back. Symptoms may include pain, joint stiffness, and joint changes that limit movement. 

A variety of complementary health approaches, including both psychological and physical approaches (mind and body practices) and dietary supplements, have been studied for osteoarthritis symptoms. Here are 7 things you should know about complementary approaches for osteoarthritis:

  1. Tai chi can be helpful for knee or hip osteoarthritis symptoms. Research studies have shown that practicing tai chi can lead to improvements in pain, stiffness, and physical function.

  2. Yoga—which is similar to tai chi—might also help. However, much less research has been done on yoga than on tai chi.

  3. The evidence on massage therapy is limited. A few studies have suggested that it may be useful, but they included only small numbers of people.

  4. Acupuncture might be helpful. Research results indicate that it’s not just a placebo, but its effects are relatively modest and may last for only a short time.

  5. Studies of glucosamine and chondroitin for knee osteoarthritis have had conflicting results. Despite extensive research, it’s still uncertain whether these dietary supplements have a meaningful impact on osteoarthritis symptoms.

  6. No conclusions can be reached about the effects of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), or S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe). Very little research has been done on DMSO and MSM. Studies of SAMe have had inconsistent results.

  7. Talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you’re using or considering for osteoarthritis. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.