Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting around 8.5 million people in the UK. It is a degenerative joint condition causing pain, loss of function, and often some degree of disability.
There is no cure for arthritis but it is usually treated with painkillers like paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs). However, these are not suitable for everyone and regularly taking high doses of paracetamol or NSAIDs can be associated with side effects.
The research team was, therefore, looking for effective and safe alternatives.
They carried out a clinical trial in which 604 patients with knee arthritis, from 5 European countries were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 daily treatments involving chondroitin sulfate, the NSAID celecoxib, and placebo pills.
Chondroitin sulfate is available as an over the counter supplement but the level of active ingredient can vary. So for the study highly purified, pharmaceutical grade, chondroitin sulfate was used.
Pain, joint function and overall acceptability to the patients were assessed over 6 months.
The results showed that knee pain and joint function improved significantly with all 3 treatments by day 30 (1 month), and this effect persisted over the 6 months.
However, the reductions in pain and improvements in joint function were significantly greater after 3 and 6 months in patients treated with either chondroitin sulfate or celecoxib.
Joint function improved more quickly in patients taking celecoxib, but there were no overall differences in the effectiveness of either active treatment.
The researchers conclude that high quality (pharmaceutical grade) chondroitin sulfate is as good as the widely prescribed NSAID celecoxib for the treatment of painful knee osteoarthritis.
They believe, in light of the known clinical risks associated with long-term use of NSAIDS and paracetamol, that chondroitin sulfate should be considered as a first-line treatment for knee osteoarthritis.
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