Can Glucosamine Help Athletes Reduce Joint Pain?

Why It Just May Be a Placebo

Post workout joint pain is unpleasant. It can hinder participation in your favorite sport trying to avoid the painful after effects. There is nothing fun about joint pain. Topping it off, going to the doctor and hearing its normal as you age can add to the frustration. 

The truth is most of us will experience some joint pain in our lifetime. It doesn't matter if it stems from the knees, hips, elbows or back, when the discomfort becomes a nuisance we are on the lookout for relief.  

 

Joint Pain

Feeling it in the knee
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Going to the doctor for chronic joint pain is always step one to rule out anything major. What is typically discovered is wear and tear on the body does happen over time. 

Workouts, running, and even carrying additional weight are tough on the body and joints.  As you age, glucosamine levels go down, which can lead to eventual joint deterioration. Arthritis and especially osteoarthritis affects several million people and the general cause of joint pain. 

Dealing with inflamed joints can put a damper on the tennis game, training for that 5K, or heavy weight lifting. The workout may be fun at the time, but afterward sends you limping home throwing on the ice packs. 

Glucosamine supplementation is indicated to provide possible relief of joint pain. Great news but it's still important to review the clinical evidence prior to purchasing any supplement. What works for one person may not work for another.

All supplements are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended to be approached with skepticism. Fact-checking the product claims is advised and will provide confidence in purchasing supplements like glucosamine.

What is Glucosamine?

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring chemical found in the fluid around your joints. There are different kinds of glucosamine including glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and chondroitin. Chondroitin is another chemical that is typically found in cartilage surrounding joints in the body.

One would assume supplementing with the chemicals naturally surrounding your joints would be the answer to joint pain. Unfortunately, glucosamine research is limited and focused mainly on osteoarthritis. The types most widely studied are glucosamine, chondroitin, and sulfate.

Glucosamine for Athletes

Many athletes and bodybuilders are supplementing with glucosamine in an effort to reduce joint pain associated with heavy lifting and extreme physical training. Repeated intense workouts in sports like football, bodybuilding, soccer, and endurance running are especially hard on the knee joints. Eventual arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis in the knee is not uncommon for many of these athletes. 

Some practitioners suggest athletes take both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. It appears this combination is better absorbed by the molecules that make up cartilage. These recommendations are based mostly on personal and professional experience rather than sound evidence. Research is lacking on the benefits of glucosamine supplementation for athletes. 

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition examined if glucosamine supplementation would help obese women starting a resistance training program. Exercise and weight loss proved to be beneficial for the women, but it remained unclear if glucosamine supplementation provided therapeutic benefits. 

 

Does Glucosamine Relieve Joint Pain?

It appears glucosamine for joint pain works for some and not for others. Much of the research refers to the 2-year Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT).

GAIT indicated the long-term study for patients taking glucosamine and chondroitin for knee osteoarthritis pain had positive results. Some participants using the supplements had outcomes similar to those experienced by patients who took celecoxib, a prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

Other research participants showed no response taking both glucosamine or placebo.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated a significant decrease of joint swelling and pain with chondroitin sulfate. These findings reveal glucosamine may be beneficial to treat moderate-to-severe symptoms. 

The bottom line is there isn't enough conclusive evidence to support that glucosamine will work. Further research is required.

Should I take Glucosamine?

Always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements including glucosamine. Supplements remain unregulated and the purity and effectiveness of the product are always in question.

Labels may look appealing and effectiveness claims amazing, but decisions should be based on proven facts. Personal experience with taking glucosamine can also help determine if it's right for you.  

Glucosamine just may be a psychological feel better placebo pill good enough for those seeking relief. It appears to work for some.

The recommended dose for best possible results is 1500 mg of glucosamine sulfate and 1250 mg of chondroitin. The best course of action is to always be your own health care advocate, monitor how you respond to glucosamine, and record any improvements. 

You will know soon enough if you’re wasting your money and hey, you just might get lucky. 

Sources:
Daniel O. Clegg, M.D. et al., Glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate, and the Two in Combination for Painful Knee Osteoarthritis, New England Journal of Medicine, 2006

Magrans-Courtney et al., Effects of diet type and supplementation of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM on body composition, functional status, and markers of health in women with knee osteoarthritis initiating a resistance-based exercise and weight loss program, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2011

S. Terry Canale MD, To Glucosamine or Not Glucosamine?, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2012

Sawitzke AD et al., Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, 2010

Wandel S et al., Effects of glucosamine, chondroitin, or placebo in patients with osteoarthritis of hip or knee: network meta-analysis, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 2010

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