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What now for Arthritis Pain?

separator If you had been depending on Vioxx to help with your arthritis pain, chances are you’re looking around now for other ways to seek relief. You’re certainly not alone. There were 20 million people who had taken Vioxx when Merck & Co., its maker, pulled it from the market because of the increased risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack and stroke, associated with the drug.

Vioxx was what’s called a COX-2 inhibitor. This class of drugs has been the choice of many arthritis sufferers because other pain drugs, called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDS, often caused severe stomach pain, ulcers, heartburn and bleeding.

There are two other COX-2 inhibitors that people use to control arthritis. Both of them, Bextra and Celebrex, may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to some recent studies.

Medication is not the only way to relieve pain
Arthritis pain is the result of the erosion of the tissue (called “cartilage”) that covers the ends of bones at the joint. Without that protective cartilage, bones rub together end-to-end, causing pain that can be quite severe.

People who have arthritis, especially now, need to remember that there are ways to control pain that don’t involve drugs.

Gentle movement
When you keep your joints moving, you help release fluid around the joints. It’s called synovial fluid. This fluid helps relieve some of the stiffness and pain—almost like keeping your car oiled so that it runs more smoothly. What are some common exercises that people with arthritis find helpful?

  • Swimming (there are special water classes for people with arthritis)
  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Spinning
  • T’ai chi
  • Qigong

Dietary options
There’s some evidence, although not from large scale studies, that certain foods can help reduce the inflammation that causes arthritis pain. It’s worth trying some of these foods to see whether they help you:

  • Ginger. You can buy fresh ginger at just about any grocery store. Try chopping it up and adding it to tea or oatmeal for flavor. Asian foods, such as Indian, Chinese or Thai, often use ginger in their recipes. If you don’t already cook these types of foods, you may want to expand your repertoire!
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.
  • Pineapple. This contains a substance called bromelain, which is thought to help reduce inflammation.
  • Fish oils. Try to increase your intake of fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, cod and trout.


  • Glucosamine and condroitin sulfate. There’s some evidence that glucosamine and condroitin sulfate help some people with arthritis, while other people see no improvement. The people who do see improvement notice better joint function, pain relief and less stiffness. It may take about eight weeks before you notice any improvement. Dosages generally should range from 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day. Ask your doctor about these supplements and about what dosage would be right for you.
  • Vitamins C, D, E. It’s possible that getting plenty of vitamins can help slow the progression of osteoarthritis. You may want to talk to your doctor about whether it’s a good idea for you to take vitamins C, D, E and beta carotene.

If you give these things a try for a little while, it might be possible to reduce your pain enough that you’ll be able either to eliminate medications altogether or to find relief in some of the less strong ones, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). But be sure to talk with your doctor about that, because too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage.

American Family Physician, 15 January 2003; Archives of Internal Medicine, 14 October 2002; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; E Kamhi, E Zampieron. Arthritis. AlternativeMedicine.Com, Tiburon, California, 1999; National Institute on Aging; National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; A Weil. Eating Well for Optimum Health. Alfred A Knopf, New York, New York, 2000
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