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Safe but useless for knee arthritis: glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, and celecoxib

PainSci » bibliography » Sawitzke et al 2010
Tags: chronic pain, knee, nutrition, bad news, pain problems, leg, limbs, self-treatment, treatment

Five articles on PainSci cite Sawitzke 2010: 1. The Complete Guide to IT Band Syndrome2. The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain3. The Complete Guide to Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome4. The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks5. Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements for Pain & Healing

PainSci commentary on Sawitzke 2010: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Even though knee osteoarthritis makes many lives miserable, long-term studies of treatment options are surprisingly few. This badly needed and good quality experiment compared the efficacy and safety of the two most popular supplements for pain — glucosamine, chrondroitin sulphate — as well as the painkiller celecoxib. They were pitted against each other, a supplement combination, and a placebo, in several hundred patients for two years (valuable long-term data that didn’t really exist before).

Alas, none of the treatments worked — less than 2% of patients enjoyed even a 20% improvement. The study authors conclude: “no treatment achieved a clinically important difference in … pain or function as compared with placebo.” As well, adverse reactions were similar in all groups; serious adverse reactions were rare for all treatments. This adds considerable weight to the already substantial evidence that most popular supplements are totally bogus.

But safe! “All of the tested therapies appeared to be generally safe and well tolerated over a two-year period.”

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is a major cause of pain and functional limitation in older adults, yet longer-term studies of medical treatment of OA are limited.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the efficacy and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate (CS), alone or in combination, as well as celecoxib and placebo on painful knee OA over 2 years.

METHODS: A 24-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, conducted at nine sites in the US ancillary to the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial, enrolled 662 patients with knee OA who satisfied radiographic criteria (Kellgren/Lawrence grade 2 or 3 changes and baseline joint space width of at least 2 mm). This subset continued to receive their randomised treatment: glucosamine 500 mg three times daily, CS 400 mg three times daily, the combination of glucosamine and CS, celecoxib 200 mg daily, or placebo over 24 months. The primary outcome was a 20% reduction in Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) pain over 24 months. Secondary outcomes included an Outcome Measures in Rheumatology/Osteoarthritis Research Society International response and change from baseline in WOMAC pain and function.

RESULTS: Compared with placebo, the odds of achieving a 20% reduction in WOMAC pain were celecoxib: 1.21, glucosamine: 1.16, combination glucosamine/CS: 0.83 and CS alone: 0.69, and were not statistically significant.

CONCLUSIONS: Over 2 years, no treatment achieved a clinically important difference in WOMAC pain or function as compared with placebo. However, glucosamine and celecoxib showed beneficial but not significant trends. Adverse reactions were similar among treatment groups and serious adverse events were rare for all treatments.

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