What if there were a way for those suffering with neck pain from arthritis to ditch the dangerous NSAIDs and opiates and help relieve pain naturally, whilst improving long-term health? No epidural steroid injections, no surgery, no elaborate physical therapy requirements but you still get pain relief within a week or so and the added benefit of knowing that chronic degenerative processes are being fought against to help improve and maintain your mobility and flexibility. Sounds too good to be true? It might be very real and it might be sitting on the shelf at your local natural products store: MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin, a powerful combination for neck pain relief that is backed by rigorous research.
Why Not NSAIDs for Neck Pain?
Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause liver damage, gastrointestinal problems, such as bleeding and ulceration, kidney problems, increased risk of heart attack, and may even make your pain worse. When a chronic pain condition arises, however, it may be that NSAIDs and even opiates are all that can get you through the day, along with a spinal steroid injection or two over the years. These injections may themselves compromise spine health, with recent research finding a higher rate of fracture and osteoporosis with epidural steroid injections. Arthritis sufferers are not only suffering from acute pain but are facing years of progressively worsening pain and disability as the cartilage in the joints degrades and the bones weaken.
How MSM, Glucosamine, and Chondroitin Relieve Pain
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring sulfur compound that has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and joint-rebuilding capacities. Glucosamine and chondroitin are also naturally occurring substances found in the joints, with the latter requiring the former for synthesis. Where cartilage has already worn away or been damaged by acute trauma, providing both ready-made chondroitin and a supply of glucosamine together can help relieve back and neck pain faster and with longer-term benefits. Chondroitin actively inhibits the enzymes responsible for breaking down joint tissue, as well as giving collagen and elastase production a boost for extra joint strength and stability. As much as many NSAIDs like acetaminophen help relieve pain in the short term, they may actually lower the body’s creation of new cartilage, thus compromising long-term joint health.
Rebuilding the Joints
The form of glucosamine used in clinical trials is glucosamine sulfate, with the supplement found to decrease actin and act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in the joint tissue; shown through reduced levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, prostaglandin E 2, and interleukin 1-beta (Chan et al., 2005, Chou et al., 2005, De Silva et al., 2011). Glucosamine also helps rebuild joint tissue by stimulating protein synthesis, as does MSM and chondroitin. MSM also helps improve cases of osteoporosis as it can stimulate the activity of stem cells in the bone whilst encouraging bone mineralization and the production of collagen for new bone matrix (Lim et al., 2012). Anyone having spine surgery involving fusion may wish to consider MSM as part of their recovery regime, especially as many NSAIDs and steroids are not recommended after such surgery because of their bone-depleting actions.
Short Term Pain Relief vs. Chronic Neck Pain Treatment
These three supplements may actually be more effective for pain relief in osteoarthritis than some NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and piroxicam as well as having the ability to reduce long-term joint degeneration by over 50% and possibly even help delay surgery. Where neck pain is due to a short term issue, NSAIDs can offer fast and effective pain relief. Those with longer term health issues, such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, or other problems causing neck pain, should discuss the evidence for the use of MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin with their doctor as it may help reduce reliance on NSAIDs (and, therefore, reduce side-effects) as well as slow down joint degeneration for less pain long-term.
Chan, P.S., Caron, J.P., Rosa, G.J., Orth, M.W. (2005). Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate regulate gene expression and synthesis of nitric oxide and prostaglandin E(2) in articular cartilage explants. Osteoarthritis Cartilage, 13(5):387-94.
Chou, M.M., Vergnolle, N., McDougall, J.J., Wallace, J.L., Marty, S., Teskey, V., Buret, A.G. (2005). Effects of chondroitin and glucosamine sulfate in a dietary bar formulation on inflammation, interleukin-1beta, matrix metalloprotease-9, and cartilage damage in arthritis. Exp Biol Med (Maywood), 230(4):255-62.
Lim, E.J., Hong, D.Y., Park, J.H., Joung, Y.H., Darvin, P., et al. (2012). Methylsulfonylmethane suppresses breast cancer growth by down-regulating STAT3 and STAT5b pathways. PLoS ONE, 7(4):e33361.
De Silva, V., El-Metwally, A., Ernst, E., Lewith, G., Macfarlane, G.J., Arthritis Research UK Working Group on Complementary and Alternative Medicines. (2011). Evidence for the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines in the management of osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatology (Oxford), 50(5):911-20.