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Complementary Medicine for Arthritis

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Topic Overview

Complementary medicine includes many treatments you can use along with standard medical treatment. A lot of people use some form of complementary medicine to treat osteoarthritis.

Some of these treatments may help you move more easily and deal with the stress and pain of arthritis. But in some cases, not much is known about how safe they are or how well they may work.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any complementary treatments you use or want to use. He or she can tell you about the possible benefits and side effects of these treatments.

Natural health products

    • Glucosamine and chondroitin: These supplements are available in tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid form. Some people believe they help arthritis symptoms. 
    • SAM-e: SAM-e is short for S-adenosylmethionine. It's a substance that occurs naturally in the body. The body makes less of it with age, so some people think that this supplement may be helpful for certain diseases.
    • Vitamin B-3: Taking a type of vitamin B-3 called niacinamide seems to improve joint flexibility in some people with arthritis. It also helps pain and swelling. Some people are able to cut down on their pain medicines by taking vitamin B-3. It is often included in combination pills that contain several B vitamins.
    • Avocado soybean extract: Avocado-soy extract is a soft gel pill made with avocado oil and soybean oil. It's also called ASU. Taking this supplement every day may help arthritis pain.
    • Fish oil: Fish oil can be found in fish. But you can also get it in pills or liquid form. It may help arthritis symptoms.

Other treatments

    • Acupuncture and massage: Some people find treatments like acupuncture and massage helpful for their knee arthritis. 
    • Capsaicin cream: Capsaicin is found in different types of hot peppers. When a capsaicin cream or ointment is used on the skin, it helps relieve pain. Capsaicin works by first stimulating and then decreasing the intensity of pain signals in the body. Capsaicin may cause a burning feeling at first. But it usually decreases after the first use.
    • Tai chi and yoga: Some people have found that the series of gentle movements in tai chi helped reduce their knee pain. And both tai chi and yoga can help reduce stress and relax your mind and muscles.

What are the risks of complementary medicine?

One risk is that you might use complementary treatment instead of going to your regular doctor. Complementary medicine should be in addition to treatment from your doctor. Otherwise you may miss important treatment that could help you feel better or keep your condition from getting worse.

Some natural health products may be safe when you take them on their own. But they may not be safe if you have other medical problems. And they could be dangerous when they are combined with another medicine you take. To be safe, always check with your doctor before you use any new natural health products.

Natural health products also can vary widely in how strong they are. And they may contain harmful things not listed on the label. Your doctor or practitioner may be able to recommend a brand you can trust.

Complementary medicine isn't regulated as much as standard medicine. This means you could become a victim of fraud. People who sell or practice non-standard medicine are more likely to be frauds if they:

  • Require large payments up-front.
  • Promise quick and miraculous results.
  • Warn you not to trust your doctor.


Adaptation Date: 1/17/2023

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC