Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is one of the main causes of mobility decline in the elderly. Non-surgical treatments such as administration of supplements to strengthen the joint cartilage matrix have become popular not only for pain relief but also for joint preservation. Glucosamine has been used in many countries based on the increasing evidence of its effectiveness for OA. Although there are many previous studies and systematic reviews, the findings vary and different conclusions have been drawn. We aimed to review recent randomized controlled trials on glucosamine for knee OA to reveal up-to-date findings about this supplement. We also performed a meta-analysis of some of the outcomes to overcome the unsolved bias in each study. Eighteen articles written between 2003 and 2016 were analyzed. Many used visual analogue scale (VAS) pain scores and the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC), which were assessed in our meta-analysis. We found a marginally favorable effect of glucosamine on VAS pain scores. The effect on knee function, as measured by the WOMAC, was small and not significant. A newly established knee OA scale, the Japanese Knee Osteoarthritis Measure (JKOM), is commonly used in Japan. Although the number of subjects was small, the JKOM meta-analysis indicated that glucosamine is superior to a placebo in alleviating knee OA symptoms. Given this, we concluded that glucosamine has the potential to alleviate knee OA pain. Further studies are needed to evaluate the effect of glucosamine on knee function and joint preservation, as well as to evaluate the combined effect with other components, such as chondroitin.
Keywords: Glucosamine; Knee OA; Osteoarthritis; WOMAC.