For patients who have evidence of osteoarthritis in the knees or spine (as seen on an x-ray), and are experiencing moderate-to-severe pain, nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for pain relief and disease management.

See Dietary Supplements for Treating Arthritis

While glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been taken orally since the 1960s in Europe, it is only recently that these supplements have been used in the United States as an alternative treatment for osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease.

See Osteoarthritis Treatment

Evidence suggests that these supplements may help relieve moderate-to-severe pain of osteoarthritis by interacting with the cartilage. Current clinical trial results support the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, particularly for osteoarthritis of the knee. Although glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have proven effective for some patients with osteoarthritis, these and any other supplements should only be used as complementary treatment, under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

What is Osteoarthritis?

When cartilage becomes worn, exposed bones can rub together and the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis may appear. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, especially the knees, hips, and those throughout the spine.

Read more in the Osteoarthritis Health Center

Conventional medicine does not yet have a proven treatment to stop or slow the progression of osteoarthritis. Traditional medical treatment includes drug therapy to control the pain associated with osteoarthritis. These treatments are sometimes disappointing for physicians and patients because medications may not provide complete relief and can have unwanted side effects. Some of these patients may be candidates for nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.

Use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate as Nutritional Supplements

Many Americans are using nutritional supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, in hopes of improving general health and for treating a specific disease. Some of these alternative therapies have recently gained acceptance by traditional medical doctors due to an increase in demand by health care consumers as well as increasing evidence that some of these supplements actually help patients. 1 Schenk RC, "New Approaches to the Treatment of Osteoarthritis: Oral Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate," AAOS Instructional Course Lectures Volume 49 (2000): 491-494.

This article will examine two supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, that are currently used by consumers to treat the pain of osteoarthritis and will provide information for patients who are considering the use of these nutritional supplements as an alternative treatment.