Evidence for the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines in the management of osteoarthritis: a systematic review

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2011 May;50(5):911-20. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keq379. Epub 2010 Dec 17.


Objectives. To critically evaluate the evidence regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) taken orally or applied topically (excluding glucosamine and chondroitin) in the treatment of OA. Methods. Randomized clinical trials of OA using CAMs, in comparison with other treatments or placebo, published in English up to January 2009, were eligible for inclusion. They were identified using systematic searches of bibliographic databases and manual searching of reference lists. Information was extracted on outcomes, and statistical significance, in comparison with alternative treatment of placebo, and side effects were reported. The methodological quality of the primary studies was determined. Results. The present review found consistent evidence that capsaicin gel and S-adenosyl methionine were effective in the management of OA. There was also some consistency to the evidence that Indian Frankincense, methylsulphonylmethane and rose hip may be effective. For other substances with promising evidence, the evidence base was either insufficiently large or the evidence base was inconsistent. Most of the CAM compounds studied were free of major adverse effects. Conclusion. The major limitation in reviewing the evidence is the paucity of randomized controlled trials in the area: widening the evidence base, particularly for those compounds for which there is promising evidence, should be a priority for both researchers and funders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Topical
  • Antirheumatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage
  • Capsaicin / therapeutic use
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis / drug therapy*
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / administration & dosage
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • S-Adenosylmethionine
  • Capsaicin