Arthritis is one of the cornerstones of the market for complementary medicines. The British public spends hundreds of millions of pounds a year on a burgeoning range of supplements that claim to ease aches and pains. But do they work?
This is a question the Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) hopes to answer with the first comprehensive, evidence-based report on the use of complementary medicines in patients with arthritis. The full, 80-page report can be downloaded free of charge from www.arc.org.uk, but below are some of the findings that caught my eye.
Before we get into which remedies work best, I have focused on self-help measures for people with the “wear and tear” type osteoarthritis (OA) that typically affects the hands, knees, hips and spine, as opposed to the less common but often more severe inflammatory form of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
It is thought that there are at least six million people in the UK with painful OA in one or both knees. At least two million people show signs of arthritic change in their hips, and close to ten million have OA of the spine. And many more will have minor changes in small joints of the hand, particularly the thumb. Conventional treatment centres on the use of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and diclofenac to control symptoms until such time as joint replacement may become necessary. But lots of patients also turn to complementary approaches.