Natural Supplements for Muscle & Joint Pain

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Whether it is a pulled hamstring from a spirited game of softball or degenerative changes that occur with aging, chances are you will experience muscle or joint pain at some point in your life. Muscle pain, or myalgia, affects not only muscles but also ligaments, tendons and the connective soft tissue surrounding these structures, accordig to the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC. Arthralgia is the term used to describe pain, inflammation and stiffness in ligaments, tendons and joints. As the majority of muscles are attached at the point of a joint articulation, the two types of pain frequently merge and become indistinguishable. Ideally, this pain is a temporary annoyance that resolves quickly with conservative treatment. For some though, it is a chronic and at-times debilitating problem that sends people to their health care providers seeking relief.

Definitions of Natural Supplements

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The term "natural" supplement is often used interchangeably with the terms "herbal" supplement, and "dietary" supplement. In 1994, Congress enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, defining dietary supplements as products taken by mouth that contain ingredients intended to supplement the diet. These ingredients include vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites. The American College of Rheumatology defines natural supplements as plant extracts and chemicals whose actions are unknown. There are a number of natural supplements that have shown promise for relieving pain, inflammation and immobility in joints and muscles.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

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Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are naturally occurring substances in the body. They have undergone extensive scientific review, both separately and in combination.They are also widely used by veterinarians to treat joint immobility and stiffness in dogs, cats, and horses. Glucosamine and chondrotin are thought to be directly involved in the production and maintenance of cartilage. Glucosamine is a form of glucose purported to build and maintain cartilage, tendons and other connective tissues in the body by acting as a building block for these materials and by inhibiting enzymes that destroy cartilage. It is also thought to preserve joint lubrication, a major cause of joint pain and stiffness. Chondroitin likewise facilitates movement of fluid into joint spaces, providing a cushion against friction, inflammation and pain. Either supplement can be taken on its own, however, many choose to take the two in combination in order to optimize the benefits. Commonly reported side effects of glucosamine and chondroitin are diarrhea, constipation, heartburn and nausea.


Methylsulfonylmethane or MSM, is a also a naturally occurring compound found in the body. MSM is an organic form of sulphur, an essential mineral that plays an important role in forming muscles, nails, hair and skin, as well as in building healthy cells. Sulphur is also necessary for making collagen, the primary constituent of cartilage and other types of connective tissue. MSM is present in many food groups including fruits, vegetables and grains. Natural levels of MSM tend to drop off as people age, leading to loss of muscle flexibility and joint stiffness. MSM's claim to fame is its analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. It is a favorite among athletes for muscle cramps and connective tissue repair. There are a number of products available combining MSM, with glucosamine and chondroitin, yet there is a dearth of current research addressing the true effectiveness of MSM. Nausea is a commonly reported side effect of MSM.


SAMe, or S- adenosylmethionine, is a biochemical substance found in all living cells of humans, animals and plants. It is sold as a prescription drug in Europe where it has been used for years as a treatment for depression and osteoarthritis. SAMe facilitates a number of important biological reactions and serves as a precursor of some essential amino acids. Studies demonstrate that this substance has had positive effects on reducing swelling, stiffness and joint pain. The Agency for Health Care Research and Quality concluded that SAMe was more effective than a placebo for relief of the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis. SAMe has also been found to help with the pain and immobility associated with fibromyalgia. This supplement is expensive, compared to other natural supplements, and adverse drug interactions have been reported. SAMe is contraindicated for patients undergoing treatment for Parkinson's Disease. Use SAMe with caution if you are taking antidepressants, as extreme agitation and increased anxiety have been reported, along with gastrointestinal upsets.

Additional Considerations

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In recent years, consumer use of natural supplements has skyrocketed. The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, reported that in 2007, sales of natural supplements exceeded $23 billion. Because of this, a new bill is under review in Congress that, if passed, would give the FDA increased authority to regulate the sale of natural supplements and to investigate their safety. If you are contemplating the use of natural supplements, do your homework. Purchase these products only from reputable manufacturers. Do not exceed recommended doses, and read label warnings carefully. Finally, treat all natural supplements as if they were drugs, and report your use of natural supplements to your health care providers when giving information for medical histories.