Osteoarthritis Treatments to Avoid

Some complementary or alternative treatments for osteoarthritis can be dangerous. Others won’t harm you, but they are not worth spending your money on.

What's not recommended

Following are several nontraditional treatments that the Arthritis Foundation says are unsafe: arnica (Arnica montana); aconite (Aconitum napellus); adrenal, spleen and thymus extracts; autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale); 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP); gammabutyrolactone (GBL); L-tryptophan; chaparral; and Kombucha tea.

The following treatments also are not recommended:

SAMe. Pronounced “sammy,” S-adenosylmethionine(SAMe), is a naturally occurring compound found in all living cells. It has been available as an over-the-counter supplement in the United States since 1999.

As with other supplements, the FDA does not regulate its effectiveness or safety. A review of published studies on SAMe found that only one of 10 people using it experienced a decrease in osteoarthritis pain. However, because the quality of the studies is questionable, it’s not recommended as a treatment for the disease. SAMe also is expensive and often causes diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.

Bracelets. Bracelets containing metals such as copper or “static magnets” are frequently marketed as pain relievers for osteoarthritis. Despite a few studies claiming they work, arthritis experts do not recommend them.

“Miracle” remedies. If you see or hear an ad touting a new, secret, miracle remedy for arthritis that even the best doctors don’t know about, keep your wallet closed. If the remedy were that miraculous, everyone would know about it and it wouldn’t need to be advertised. If no one knows about it, it hasn’t been well tested and no evidence shows that it works.

Treatments under development

Researchers are conducting studies on disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs) that can slow or stop disease progression. Gene therapy is another option under study as a treatment for osteoarthritis.

Researchers are also studying stem cells and growth factors to improve bone healing after joint repair surgery. Use of stem cells to grow new cartilage is also under investigation.