Find out more about complementary medicines and the top five that people contact us about. Arthritis patients live with chronic pain—pain which can become debilitating if it goes unaddressed. One innovation in pain management is the use of cannabidiol, or CBD.
Complementary treatments and arthritis – from turmeric to cannabis oil
People use complementary medicine for many different reasons, including:
- wanting to use more natural treatments
- their symptoms aren’t fully controlled by conventional medicine.
Read more about complementary therapies which can help to ease the symptoms of arthritis, from yoga to meditation.
Are they right for me?
As with all complementary treatments, different things work for different people and it isn’t possible to predict which might be the most useful or effective.
There are some key points to consider if you’re thinking about using any complementary treatments.
- What are you hoping to achieve? Pain relief? More energy? Better sleep? Reduction in medication?
- What are the financial costs?
- Is there any evidence for their effectiveness?
Are complementary medicines safe?
Complementary medicines are relatively safe, although you should always talk to your doctor before you start any new treatment.
In specific cases they may not be recommended, for example, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or they may interact with certain medication.
A starter for five
Here we share a spotlight on the most popular complementary medicines that people call our helpline about.
It’s thought that turmeric can possibly reduce inflammation, which could help people with arthritis.
People with knee osteoarthritis who took part in a research trial reported improvements to their pain levels after taking turmeric. The evidence is limited however, as it is from just one trial. What evidence there is suggested that people only had minor side-effects after taking turmeric.
Turmeric can be bought from health food shops, pharmacies and supermarkets in the form of powder.
Glucosamine sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride are nutritional supplements. Animal studies have found that glucosamine can both delay the breakdown of and repair damaged cartilage.
The results for the use of glucosamine for osteoarthritis are mixed and the size of the effect is modest. There’s some evidence that more recent trials and those using higher-quality methods are less likely to show a benefit.
Capsaicin is taken from chilli peppers. It works mainly by reducing Substance P, a pain transmitter in your nerves. Results from randomised controlled trials assessing its role in treating osteoarthritis suggest that it can be effective in reducing pain and tenderness in affected joints, and it has no major safety problems. Evidence for its effectiveness for fibromyalgia is related to a single trial.
Other names: Axsain®, Zacin®, chilli, pepper gel, cayenne
Capsaicin is licensed in the UK for osteoarthritis and you can get it on prescription in the form of gels, creams and plasters.
There are no major safety concerns in applying capsaicin gel/cream. A review of capsaicin applied to the skin to treat chronic pain (not specifically related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia) concluded that around one third of people experience a reaction around the area where the treatment is applied. It’s important to keep capsaicin away from your eyes, mouth and open wounds because it will cause irritation. There have been no reported drug interactions.
Fish oils are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Fish liver oil is also a rich source of vitamin A (a strong antioxidant) and vitamin D (which is important for maintaining healthy joints).
Evidence suggests that fish body oil can improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Unconfirmed evidence also suggests a combination of fish body and liver oils might also be useful in the long term, particularly in reducing the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). There isn’t enough evidence for the use of fish liver oil for osteoarthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood, so they can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in people with inflammatory arthritis.
In the UK, dietary guidelines recommend eating two portions of fish a week, including one oily. Fish oil is considered to be well tolerated at this dose.
At the correct doses, side-effects are usually minor and uncommon.
Cannabis oil (CBD)
CBD is type of cannabinoid – a natural substance extracted from the cannabis plant and often mixed with an oil (such as coconut or hemp) to create CBD oil. It does not contain the psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) which is associated with the feeling of being ‘high’.
Research in cannabinoids over the years suggests that they can be effective in treating certain types of chronic pain such as pain from nerve injury, but there is currently not enough evidence to support using cannabinoids in reducing musculoskeletal pain. We welcome further research to better understand its impact and are intently following developments internationally.
CBD oil can be legally bought as a food supplement in the UK from heath food shops and some pharmacies. However, CBD products are not licensed as a medicine for use in arthritis by MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority) or approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) or the SMC (Scottish Medicines consortium).
We know anecdotally from some people with arthritis, that CBD has reduced their symptoms. If you’re considering using CBD to manage the pain of your arthritis, it’s important to remember it cannot replace your current medicines, and it may interact with them, so please do not stop/start taking anything without speaking to a healthcare professional.
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CBD For Arthritis: Benefits, Risks And More
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Table of Contents
- What Is Arthritis?
- Why CBD Might Relieve Arthritis
- Potential Risks of Using CBD for Arthritis Relief
- Should You Use CBD for Arthritis?
- Talk to Your Doctor
Arthritis patients live with chronic pain—pain which can become debilitating if it goes unaddressed. One innovation in pain management is the use of cannabidiol, or CBD. While there is no cure for arthritis pain, early studies have shown that CBD can potentially aid in some of the discomfort, anxiety and inflammation associated with the condition.
Read on to learn more about how CBD can be used for arthritis pain, its potential benefits, risks and if it might be an option for you.
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What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the acute or chronic inflammation of joints. Though commonly understood to be a singular condition, arthritis is a term used to reference joint pain and joint disease. In fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, among others. Symptoms include pain and stiffness in the joints, swelling, decreased range of motion, joint deformities and other related conditions.
Causes for arthritis vary depending on the individual, but can include:
- An autoimmune disease
- A previously injured joint that develops post-traumatic arthritis later in life
- Being overweight
Types of Arthritis
While there are many types of arthritis, two of the most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
“The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which develops over time and can intensify with age,” says Thomas Lazoff, M.D., a double board certified physician at Physical Medicine Consultants in Fort Wayne, Indiana. OA affects more than 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  Osteoarthritis (OA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 5/4/2022. .
OA affects the entire joint, including the bone, cartilage, ligaments, fat, and the tissues lining the joint, says Dr. Lazoff. Symptoms of OA can include joint stiffness, redness, and decreased motion in the hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck.
“This form of arthritis causes some element of swelling and tenderness of one or more joints,” he adds, noting joint pain can be chronic and flare up at times.
Age, gender, overuse of the same joints, genetics, former injuries and suffering from obesity can all contribute to the onset of OA. The condition is more common in people over 50 years old and tends to occur in women more than men.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which typically attacks the joints of the body,” says Dr. Lazoff. Individuals living with RA often experience stiffness, swelling and pain in the joints. Symptoms of an RA flare can last for extensive periods of time and may include:
- Low grade fever
- Joint stiffness, tenderness or swelling that lasts for six weeks or more
- Joint stiffness that occurs in the morning and lasts for longer than 30 minutes
Symptoms occurring in multiple joints in the body, or symptoms occurring in the same joints bilaterally may also be an indication of RA.
While the cause of RA is unknown, a genetic component is suspected to play a part in the disease, especially when triggered by lifestyle and environmental factors. Women are more likely to develop RA than men, and women who have never given birth are thought to be at higher risk, according to the CDC.