Glucosamine, a common joint supplement, is one of the building blocks of a major component of cartilage, glycosaminoglycans. The theory is that glucosamine, if available in high quantities from supplements, will help to stimulate cartilage growth. Glucosamine supplements are often combined with chondroitin, another of the cartilage building blocks.
- Pros: Joint supplements can be purchased over the counter at health food stores, and are well-tolerated by patients, without major side effects. There has been one recently completed study in Europe that lasted a period of three years showing patients experienced an improvement in symptoms.
- Cons: Until this most recent study, most reports studying joint supplements looked at patients for only several weeks, far to short a time period to draw significant conclusions. Many of the studies of glucosamine have been designed poorly and involved a small number of patients. Joint supplements have shown no evidence of reversing the effects of arthritis.
This is an injectable substance made from rooster cartilage cells; it is marketed as a 'motor oil' or lube for the joint. Patients usually receive a series of three to five Synvisc injections. The company that markets Synvisc states that it acts as a lubrication and shock absorber.
- Pros: Also a well-tolerated medication, Synvisc is easy to deliver into the knee joint through a needle. Relief of symptoms may help delay the need for surgery after Synvisc treatments.
- Cons: Synvisc has only been approved for use in the knee joint, and studies have shown questionable results. There is no evidence to show Synvisc will reverse any effects of arthritis. A best, patients have pain relief for a period of time.
Exactly what the treatment options for arthritis will be in the future is unclear. New research is focusing on altering the biomechanical properties of cartilage cells. The ideal treatment would be to find a mechanism by which we could reliably stimulate cartilage replacement. Exactly how far away we are from this achievement is not known, but it is certainly a plausible treatment possibility to be used in the future.