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12/Feb/2020

The jury is no longer out – the evidence is in

For many years, glucosamine has been one of the most commonly used supplements for osteoarthritis (OA). And even though the jury has been out on how well it works, it has been considered safe to use.

When it comes to glucosamine, there’s been a lot of conflicting research with some studies showing positive results and some showing no effect. To add to the confusion, studies have used different preparations of glucosamine – for example glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, glucosamine sulfate with chondroitin etcetera – and different dosages. Which makes it difficult to determine how effective glucosamine really is for treating the symptoms of OA.

Until recently, despite the evidence indicating that glucosamine has little, if any benefit for people with OA, it’s been seen to be relatively safe for most people.

Now, a recent study has raised some serious concerns about the side effects of glucosamine for people with shellfish allergy.

What is glucosamine?

At the ends of most of our bones we have a slippery cushion called cartilage. It absorbs shocks and helps our joints move smoothly. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance found in our cartilage.

For people who have osteoarthritis, this cushiony cartilage becomes brittle and breaks down. Some pieces of cartilage may even break away and float around inside the joint causing inflammation and pain. The cartilage no longer has a smooth, even surface, so the joint becomes stiff and painful to move.

Treating osteoarthritis

Until recently, treatments for OA have focused on managing the symptoms – controlling pain and reducing inflammation. Medications included analgesics – e.g. paracetamol – and anti-inflammatories – e.g. ibuprofen (*see note). Along with exercise and weight management, these were the mainstays of osteoarthritis treatment. There has been no silver bullet or treatment that worked quickly and effectively.

So when glucosamine first came on the market, with positive reviews, many people were excited at the prospect of this new, ‘natural’ treatment and began taking glucosamine regularly. Glucosamine seemed to provide pain relief for many people with osteoarthritis and improve their joint function.

However over the years as more research has taken place, the evidence for the use of glucosamine has come under more and more scrutiny. Earlier, positive research was mostly funded by pharmaceutical industry, and later research, that showed glucosamine provided limited improvements, was publicly funded. This called into question the potential for bias in the earlier reporting of the benefits of glucosamine.

The peak bodies respond

Based on recent independent evidence, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Australian Rheumatology Association (ARA) have both responded publicly.

In their latest guidelines for treating OA, the ACR “strongly recommend against” using glucosamine for osteoarthritis. And the ARA has stated that this new information highlights growing evidence that glucosamine doesn’t help people with OA and it‘s a reminder that people with a shellfish allergy shouldn’t take glucosamine.

Safety concerns

It’s been known for some time that glucosamine can interact with blood thinners such as warfarin, and that it may raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Glucosamine may also have a negative effect on cholesterol and chemotherapy drugs and has been linked to worsening asthma

However it’s not been widely known to the general public that many glucosamine supplements are made from shellfish and can cause serious allergic reactions.

Recent research from the University of Adelaide investigated “spontaneous adverse drug reactions [or side effects]…to glucosamine and chondroitin in the Australian population between 2000 and 2011, with a primary focus on hypersensitivity reactions.”

They found that during that period, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) was notified of 366 recorded adverse reactions. This is more than the combined adverse reactions of other supplements such as echinacea, valerian, black cohosh, ginkgo and St John’s wort. However, hundreds of thousands of people also took glucosamine during that time with no ill effects, highlighting that the risk of a severe reaction was still very low.

A major issue raised is the labelling of glucosamine. Labelling must report that it contains seafood, but not specifically shellfish. And this information is often in small writing. So people who are aware that they have a shellfish allergy may not realise that they’re taking something that’s harmful to them.

In 2016, the TGA changed the rules for this, and required manufacturers to be clear if products contain shellfish. And this information must be easy for consumers to find. However they also gave manufactures until August 2020 to do this. So many products publicly available may still not may it clear to consumers if the product contains shellfish.

So what should you do if you currently take glucosamine?

  • If you have a shellfish allergy stop taking glucosamine immediately and discuss with your doctor.
  • If you have taken glucosamine for some time and haven’t had any negative side effects, and want to continue taking it, then you can do so under the advice of your doctor.
  • Talk to your pharmacist about any potential interactions with other medicines you may be taking.
  • Talk with your doctor about other treatment options – including exercise, weight management, pain management techniques.
  • Call our MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 or email helpline@msk.org.au and talk with our nurses about OA and ways you can manage it without glucosamine.
  • Stay up-to-date. As well as being painful, living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition can be confusing and frustrating, especially with so much conflicting information circulating through the news, social media, and our network of family, friends and acquaintances. Follow us on Facebook and sign up for our eNewsletter to stay informed about the latest information, research, events and much more.

* Note

We now know that these medications provide very little benefit for managing the ongoing symptoms of OA. Currently the best evidence is for weight management (maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if you’re overweight) and exercise. Treatments such as massage, heat and the short term use of anti-inflammatories may provide temporary relief, but the evidence is not as strong.

References


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22/Jan/2020

Written by Steve Edwards

“A cortisone injection? You want to stick a needle in my sore foot?”

Your health care clinician has suggested you have a cortisone injection into your foot. As with any medical procedure, both of you are best advised to discuss the benefits and risks before proceeding. It helps to know what cortisone is, what it does, and why it’s been offered to you.

Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication that’s often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions. It’s a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone that naturally occurs in your body. Injected into the affected area, cortisone can lower inflammation and pain, remove fluid, and thin scar tissue or adhesions. So if your clinician diagnoses a musculoskeletal condition affecting your foot or ankle – such as arthritis, bursitis, neuroma, or tendinitis – a cortisone injection is commonly raised as an effective treatment option.

Cortisone injections also contain a local anaesthetic. For certain conditions an injection can be painful, so the anaesthetic may be injected separately before the cortisone to block this pain.

The clinician may or may not use ultrasound technology to guide the injection. For pain relief in the foot or ankle, research finds no statistically-significant difference between procedures conducted with or without ultrasound. Interestingly, trials on cadavers injected with dyed cortisone show how it rapidly spreads from the injection-point to adjacent tissue, indicating that pinpoint accuracy is not key to effectiveness.

There are several types of cortisone. In most cases the clinician will administer a long-duration cortisone, taking effect within 1-3 weeks, with benefits lasting between 1-9 months, depending on the condition and its severity. There’s a clinical consensus that no more than 3 injections should be administered to the same body-part within a 12-month period, though there’s no research literature to clearly support this belief.

After the injection, you can quickly return to most activities. The clinician may recommend you avoid strenuous physical exertion such as gym workouts or running for a few days, so the cortisone isn’t displaced from the target tissue.

As for risk-factors, there’s been research into whether the injection may risk tearing tendons in the target area. There’s no recorded case of this in human trials, though it has occurred in trials on dogs and horses. There were cases of more general tissue damage recorded in early trials on American gridiron players, but various factors could have produced this result – the needle used, the amount of fluid injected, and the subjects receiving multiple injections within a short period.

No medical procedure has a 100-percent success rate, but a single cortisone injection administered by a trained clinician is both safe and effective in providing medium-term pain relief. Side effects are minimal, and the benefit to your musculoskeletal condition is potentially vast. And for some foot-specific conditions – such as a neuroma (pinched nerve), or plantar fasciitis (heel pain due to scar tissue) – a cortisone injection can often be a cure.

Our guest blogger

Steven Edwards is a trainee foot and ankle surgeon with the Australasian College of Podiatric Surgeons. He also teaches pharmacology and foot surgery to undergraduate podiatry students at La Trobe University.


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27/May/2018

A book by people like you

Chronic pain is a common and complex problem that affects 1 in 5 Australians.

It’s exhausting, a bit tricky and hard to know where to start.

Fortunately, with our book Managing your pain: An A-Z guide you can start anywhere!

Medications, sleep, laughter, fatigue, breathing. Think of it as a ‘choose your own adventure’ to getting on top of your pain.

The book emphasises practical strategies tried and tested by people like you – consumers living with musculoskeletal conditions. There are also a bunch of quotes and useful insights to keep it real.

You might also like…

We also have a helpful kids pain book called The worst pain in the world. It’s beautifully illustrated and loaded with practical advice for children living with pain (not just those with arthritis). It also gives kids who don’t live with pain an understanding of what their friends or family are going through. Copies can also be ordered through the our online shop.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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