Can Glucosamine Help Athletes Reduce Joint Pain?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are critical to the overall health of your joints, which is why many people opt for glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements when they have joint pain.1 Some use them alone, along with pain- and inflammation-reducing drugs, or in conjunction with lifestyle modifications like losing weight to address their daily discomfort.
While popular, the effectiveness of these supplements on joint pain is supported by some studies, but not others. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation notes that glucosamine and chondroitin may not benefit everyone with osteoarthritis, since results may be neutral to moderate at best. Regardless, the organization states that the supplements are still worth trying as a safe alternative to prescription anti-inflammatory medication.2
Why Glucosamine and Chondroitin?
Glucosamine is an amino sugar important for building the cartilage surrounding joints. Chondroitin is a gel-forming polysaccharide also important for the construction of cartilage that allows for much of its resistance properties.
Cartilage loss in affected joints leads to pain in people with conditions such as osteoarthritis. While osteoarthritis is often treated with drugs, those drugs can have gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects, and patients using them may still end up requiring joint replacement surgery.3
General practitioners may advocate for the administration of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements in the hopes that this might decrease joint pain and also slow the progression of conditions such as osteoarthritis, but without the side effects.4
Some practitioners suggest athletes take both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate together to improve absorption by the molecules that make up the cartilage surrounding the knees.5
A 2005 systematic review of randomized controlled trials of long-term glucosamine treatment and the progression of knee osteoarthritis found that glucosamine reduced the structural progression of knee osteoarthritis by 54% compared to a placebo.6
But in a long-term study of patients taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases in 2010, neither was statistically more effective than placebo in treating knee osteoarthritis pain.7
It’s worth noting that a trend toward improvement among those who took glucosamine was observed in the 2010 study. The same can be said for the use of chondroitin sulfate as documented in a different review paper.8
Some evidence for these recommendations, therefore, does exist, but more research is still needed. A 2018 meta-analysis proposed that results from previous studies indicating the efficacy of these supplements may have been biased.9
Una palabra del Experto
The evidence for the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in treating joint pain and slowing the progression of osteoarthritis is not conclusive.10 Supplements are regulated by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food, not drugs, so it is best to use them with caution, investigate your source, and interrogate health benefits claimed by manufacturers of the product.
Always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, including glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, and work with them to come up with a custom treatment plan that makes sense for you.