Vitamin D supplements, promoted by some as a way to slow the progression of knee arthritis and ease pain, don’t deliver after all, a new study says.
For two years, researchers compared a group of arthritis sufferers who took daily Vitamin D doses with a group who took placebos.
“We found no difference in the two in pain or other measures of structural progress such as cartilage loss,” says Dr. Timothy McAlindon, chief of rheumatology at Tufts Medical Center who led the study.
So, the search is still on to find relief for 27 million Americans, including many older people, who have the wear-and-tear arthritis known as osteoarthritis that so often strikes the knees. As the knee’s cartilage and underlying bone break down, pain sets in and the joint deteriorates.
With no known cure, doctors focus on symptom relief. “Treatment is largely limited to painkillers,” McAlindon says. “It’s a huge unmet need.” While the study on Vitamin D was disappointing, McAlindon and others say other remedies under study look promising. And treatments already available do help some.
Known and Experimental Remedies for Knee Osteoarthritis
Regular corticosteroid injections A single injection is commonly given to reduce pain, but experts have warned against getting too many, fearing cartilage damage. Now, however, McAlindon is studying whether repeating the injections every three months for two years can help reduce inflammation and, in the process, actually reduce structural damage.
Osteoporosis drug A medication used to treat osteoporosis, the ”brittle bone” disease more common with age, may help. Belgian researchers reported at the American College of Rheumatology meeting in late 2012 that a daily dose of the medicine strontium ranelate may delay the progression of knee arthritis and ease pain. The medication is not yet available in the U.S., however.
Injections of blood Using protein-rich plasma, thought to help repair cartilage, helped ease pain for six months in a small study reported by Indian researchers.
Acupuncture Results on acupuncture’s effectiveness in helping knee pain from arthritis are mixed. Some say it can reduce pain, other reports find no effect.
Supplements Maybe you’ve heard about glucosamine, an enzyme that occurs naturally in the fluid around joints. Studies on supplements of glucosamine have been disappointing. “Scientifically the studies don’t support it,” says Dr. David Cooper, a knee specialist in Wilkes-Barre, Pa, and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons spokesperson. The American College of Rheumatology advises against the supplement. However, Cooper says if his patients want to try it, he OKs a three-month trial to see if pain subsides.
Cooper also provides his patients with fish oil capsules. Some find that these reduce inflammation and pain.
Lifestyle changes Until better treatments come along, lifestyle changes can help.
Getting down to a normal weight reduces the load on the knee. “I encourage exercise and weight reduction,” says Dr. Shreyasee Amin, a rheumatologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester. Gentle exercises such as walking and water workouts – which can be done with a workout buddy – can help, too, experts say. So can strengthening the quadriceps (top of thigh) muscles to stabilize the knee, Amin says. (Ask your doctor for exercise examples.)
Ditching the cigarette habit may help. “We did a study finding smokers had more knee pain,” Amin says.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ site has much more info on knee OA – click here to visit the site.
The latest study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Click here to read the study results.
Have you or someone you know tried any of these remedies – or another remedy that helped? Share your experience in the comments box below!