Keep Arthritis from Getting Out of Hand

Keep Arthritis from Getting Out of Hand: Main Image
Chondroitin sulfate can lessen pain and improve function in people with hand osteoarthritis
Many adults suffer from osteoarthritis, an age-related degeneration of the joints. Hands are commonly affected, which can put a serious damper on day-to-day activities. Fortunately, researchers are homing in on ways to better manage hand osteoarthritis, and a dietary supplement may be one solution.

Savvy supplement study

Researchers invited 162 adults with symptoms of hand osteoarthritis (proven through x-rays) to participate in an investigation on how supplemental chondroitin sulfate may affect the condition.

Each person completed questionnaires to assess hand mobility and severity of hand pain, stiffness, and weakness. Participants recorded how much acetaminophen (familiar to many as the brand name Tylenol) they used to manage hand pain.

Participants were randomly selected to take 800 mg of chondroitin sulfate daily or a placebo pill (no chondroitin) for six months. At the end of six months, study participants completed the questionnaires again and their answers showed that, compared with the placebo group, those who took 800 mg of chondroitin sulfate daily had

  • less hand pain,
  • better hand function, and
  • less morning stiffness in their hands.

There were no differences between the placebo and chondroitin groups in terms of grip strength or use of acetaminophen.

Getting a handle on hand arthritis

This study suggests that a daily chondroitin sulfate supplement can lessen pain and improve function in people with hand osteoarthritis. Chondroitin sulfate is considered safe for most people and has been used widely for many years without any reports of serious side effects. However, you should discuss all dietary supplement use with your doctor. In addition to chondroitin, a few additional measures may help you better manage hand osteoarthritis.

  • Diet right. Poor diet is not a cause of osteoarthritis, but it may make symptoms feel worse, by increasing inflammation in the body. Base your diet around inflammation-fighting foods such as colorful vegetables and fruit, cold-water fish—wild-caught salmon, cod, sardines, and anchovies are good choices—and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
  • Maintain mobility. Ask your doctor how best to keep your hands functioning well. Some activity is good, but too much may worsen pain, so consider an appointment with a physical or occupational therapist to get guidance on keeping your hands strong and mobile.
  • Go hot or cold. Many people find that warm, gentle heat eases joint pain, but others prefer a short time with some ice on their achy joints. Either one is a reasonable remedy for short-term pain relief; pick what feels best to you.
  • Try topicals. Topical pain relievers can deliver medicine straight to the joints, bringing faster relief for many. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which is right for you, and check labels to make sure topical ingredients won’t interact with your other medications.

(Arthritis Rheum 2011;63:3383–91)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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