- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Does Glucosamine & Chondroitin Work for Knee Pain? My Experience
The Miracle of Glucosamine and Chondroitin
I had significant joint pain in my knees about 10 years ago. My knees hurt when I stood and hurt when I walked. They made horrific loud popping and grinding sounds. Believe it or not, when my daughter was a baby I would wake her by walking in her room.
I did not want to take pain relievers or NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), but the pain was beginning to become unbearable. I am an OR nurse and I stand, walk, even kneel at times, all day long. There is not much time to sit in an operating room. I needed relief.
As I researched this, I found out that some people were using something called Glucosamine, others combined it with Chondroitin. I read stories of these working...and you could buy them over the counter. I began to have hope that relief was in reach, and I would not have to visit a doctor to get it!
What is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance that is found in the body. It helps the body make the cartilage found in our joints. Glucosamine also helps our bodies keep cartilage healthy.
Glucosamine, as a supplement, is usually obtained from the shells of of shrimp, lobsters and crabs. People allergic to shellfish should discuss using this supplement with their doctor before taking it.
Glucosamine acts as a sugar in the body. Diabetics should discuss using this supplement with their doctor prior to using it.
Glucosamine and Chodroitin can interact with blood thinners. Consult with you doctor before taking these if you are on Coumadin or Warfarin.
If you are pregnant talk to your doctors before taking any over-the-counter medicine or supplement.
What is Chondroitin?
Chondroitin is another substance that occurs naturally in our bodies. Chondroitin helps cartilage absorb fluid to keep it healthy. It may block enzymes made by our bodies that break down healthy cartilage. The building blocks of of new cartilage are made when chondroitin works with glucosamine.
Chondroitin is usually obtained from shark or beef cartilage, although it can also be manufactured synthetically. I remember reading years ago that the naturally occurring chondroitin was easier for your body to absorb.
What is Cartilage?
Cartilage is the tough layer that cushions the bones in our joints. It grows on the ends of the bones to cushion and allow smooth movement of bone over each other. (There are other types of cartilage,,,but that is a discussion for an other day.)
Our cartilage breaks down as we age. It starts to wear away, no longer giving the cushion and support to the bones in the joint. This occurs mainly in the knees, hips and ankles, but can occur in any joint. This condition is called osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease.
The main symptoms are pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased motion. The cartilage lining the bones is now a torn, uneven mess, instead of the smooth covering it was. The bones no longer glide over each other smoothly. In some spots the cartilage may be worn away so much that the bones rub against each other.
Picture of a Healthy Knee Joint vs a Damaged Knee Joint
Back to My Story
Now that the boring facts are out of the way, we will get back to my story.
Once I found out the facts of glucosamine and chondroitin, I bought some and started taking it. I initially took the recommended dose of 1500mg of glucosamine with 1200mg of chondroitin split into 3 doses.
After the first month, my knees were starting to feel better. I started taking the pills only twice a day getting 1000mg of glucosamine and 800mg of chondroitin daily. I continued to improve.
I asked one of the orthopedic surgeons I worked with what he thought of glucosamine/chondroitin. He said that some of his patient took it, but it only worked for a few. He personally thought it was akin to voodoo. He told me not to get my hopes up.
After the third month, I cut back to once a day. I now took 500mg of glucosamine and 400mg of chondroitin daily. Most of the supplements will advise you to take 3 times daily for the first three months. After three months, you can take it 1 to 3 times daily, depending on how well it was working.
Obviously it was working very well for me. I had less than half the pain I had been experiencing previously. I still had some cracking, popping and grinding, but without the pain it didn't bother me as much.
I took it daily for 2 to 3 years. Then due to some financial difficulties, I stopped buying it. I never went back on because I no longer had pain. My joints no longer made the noise they had previously. Actually I had pretty much forgotten about taking them...until the results of the GAIT study showed up in my e-mail.
GAIT Study-What Is It and What Were the Results?
The acronym "GAIT" stands for Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial. It was performed by the University of Utah, School of Medicine and funded by 2 parts of the National Institutes of Health. There were 16 study centers throughout the country with 1583 participants. 78% of participants had mild pain and 22% had moderate to severe pain.
This study was a double-blind study, meaning neither the participant nor the researcher knew what was being taken. Participants were given one of 5 choices: Glucosamine alone; Chondroitin alone; Glucosamine with chondroitin; Celecoxib (a prescription drug to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis); or a Placebo. Their choice was randomly generated.
The study was to test, over a 6 month period, how well glucosamine and chondroitin worked to reduce pain in a large number of people with osteoarthritis. The results were surprising. Most of the people with mild pain did not experience pain relief from the glucosamine/chondroitin. However, the individuals with moderate to severe pain experienced significant pain relief using the glucosamine/chondroitin.
What Does This Mean For Us?
While I read the study, it began to occur to me that my hips have been hurting lately. My knees are making those noises again. Bending down is slower than ever, and standing up can hurt.
I don't pay attention to mild pains. I expect these to happen. I have never been exactly easy on my body. I have always loved to push it to it's limit to see how far it will go. Doing this while you are young increases the risk for painful joints as you get older.
I remembered my love of glucosamine and chondroitin and thought it was time to get some more! So, I am back on it. I hope it works as well as last time. I have been off since 2001. I'm not quite as bad as I was when I first took it, but close.
The researchers say that they need to do more studies on larger populations. They also were not able to prove significant cartilage re-growth. What ever they say, I know that the mix of glucosamine and chondroitin did something pretty significant to my joints. It proved itself to me years ago!
Talk to Your Doctor First
As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider before trying unproven methods. Some joint pain is caused by disease processes that require medical intervention. Most likely your healthcare provider will think like the orthopedic surgeon I knew, that it's voodoo science. But, I can tell you it worked for me.
Here is a Doctor who will Recommend Glucosamine/Chondroitin
Have you used Glucosamine/Chondroitin? Did it help?
If you have used Glucosamine/Chondroitin, did it help?
Learn More about Osteoarthritis and Supplements
- Osteoarthritis: In Depth | NCCIH
Can acupuncture, yoga, or dietary supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin, help ease the pain of osteoarthritis? Find out here.