TV presenter Susannah Constantine — the first to be ousted from this year’s Strictly Come Dancing — raised eyebrows when she confessed to taking supplements meant for horses to protect her joints during dance training.
The veterinary powder she takes contains omega-3 fish oils and superoxide dismutase (an enzyme found in all living cells); these are both anti-inflammatory ingredients said to, in this case, ‘support the equine joint and prevent long-term injury’.
Taking a product meant for animals is not wise, says Kumar Kunasingam, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Spire St Anthony’s Hospital, in Surrey, and Croydon University Hospital.
Common ailment: 10 million Britons, mainly over age 50, suffer from joint soreness
‘Although you can buy similar ingredients for human joints, I would never recommend taking horse medication as doses will be much higher and potentially unsafe.’
Around ten million Britons, mainly aged over 50, suffer from joint soreness and stiffness. The most common cause is osteoarthritis, wear and tear of the cartilage, the tissue that lines bones.
But sore joints don’t have to be an inevitable part of ageing, says Mr Kunasingam: ‘Using an exercise bike in front of the TV for 20 minutes a day, for example, helps build muscle around the knee to support a worn joint, which can stave off surgery.’
When it comes to pain relief, there are effective solutions, too: ‘Just lying in a hot bath can help,’ he adds. ‘Heat has a calming effect on the sensory receptors around the joint, reducing pain signals to the brain.’
There is an array of products that claim to reduce joint pain. Here, Mr Kunasingam reviews a selection; we then rated them.
Unless otherwise stated, products are available in High Street pharmacies and online.
Short-term: This relief only lasts around ten minutes, or until you reapply
DEEP FREEZE PAIN RELIEF COLD GEL
CLAIM: Containing menthol, this gel is said to offer ‘fast-acting cooling relief from joint and muscle pain’.
EXPERT VERDICT: The cooling effect will reduce blood flow to the area, which can dampen inflammation and reduce pain. Menthol also works as a ‘counter-irritant’, creating mild inflammation in one location with the goal of lessening discomfort in another.
Here, menthol irritates the skin, triggering pain signals. This blinds the brain to the pre-existing pain. from the joint. However this relief only lasts around ten minutes, or until you reapply. Ice has the same effect, and is cheaper. 6/10
LQ LIQUID HEALTH JOINT CARE
Fact: There’s little evidence your body can absorb collagen properly when taken orally
Box of ten 50ml bottles, £24.99
CLAIM: A supplement which ‘supports joints, bones and cartilage health’. It contains collagen, a protein that helps build cartilage, and glucosamine, ‘a molecule used in the body to renew cartilage’.
VERDICT: Collagen supplements have been touted as helpful for creating supple joints and cartilage. But there’s little evidence your body can absorb it properly when taken orally, or then use it in such a specific way.
This also has vitamin C and copper to promote collagen formation in the joint — but, again, this isn’t supported by robust evidence. The individual ingredients are useful for general health, but you should get most from a balanced diet, at a fraction of the cost. 2/10
VOLTAROL 12 HOUR JOINT PAIN RELIEF GEL
Safe: As it’s absorbed through the skin and only a low dose gets into the bloodstream
CLAIM: Contains diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve pain and inflammation. Said to relieve osteoarthritis pain ‘for up to 12 hours’.
VERDICT: Diclofenac works by blocking the action of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme linked to inflammatory pain. This should work well.
In theory, any substance that acts on this pathway can have side-effects on the heart, kidneys and gastrointestinal system — though in this case this is not a cause for concern as it’s absorbed through the skin and only a low dose gets into the bloodstream.
Because of this, it can be used longer term. I like the easy-to-open cap as twisting lids off can be agony if you have sore joints. Rubbing the area with a cheap, non-perfumed cream such as E45 may also give some relief as massage is known to ease pain. 8/10
GOPO JOINT HEALTH
120 capsules, £18.99
Natural: Rosehip contains polyphenols and anthocyanins, compounds thought to ease inflammation
CLAIM: A supplement with rosehip and vitamin C to ‘help maintain healthy and flexible joints’.
VERDICT: Rosehip contains polyphenols and anthocyanins, compounds thought to ease inflammation and prevent joint damage.
A 2008 review of previous studies, conducted at Frederiksberg Hospital in Denmark, found that rosehip may be effective in relieving the pain of osteoarthritis. Other studies have found it can reduce the production of specific enzymes that break down cartilage in the joints. This is well worth a try for ongoing joint pain, as it has better science behind it than many of the other supplements. Nevertheless, most studies have looked at just the short-term effects of taking rosehip for a few months. Longer trials would be useful to see if these benefits last. 9/10
VITABIOTICS JOINTACE PATCH
Pack of eight, £9.49
Effective? There’s no evidence to support the use of essential oils to ease joint pain
CLAIM: A cooling patch releases six essential oils — ginger, eucalyptus, clove, lavender, orange and fennel — as well as menthol, into the skin for 12 hours, for short-term pain relief.
It also contains glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin — both said to help maintain joint health and flexibility.
VERDICT: There’s no evidence to support the use of essential oils to ease joint pain — although the cooling effect may help a bit. Animal studies have found glucosamine and chondroitin help prevent and treat arthritis, but these benefits haven’t been reproduced in human trials.
A patch is also an expensive way to take these nutrients because the absorption will be reduced compared with oral supplements, making them even less likely to work than a pill (also unproven)
Mixed messages: The menthol and methyl salicylate in this product work in sequence and cause the skin to feel cool then warm
DEEP HEAT PAIN RELIEF SPRAY
CLAIM: A spray that heats up the skin and boosts circulation, offering temporary relief for painful muscles and joints.
VERDICT: The menthol and methyl salicylate in this product work in sequence and cause the skin to feel cool then warm.
This confuses pain signals, distracting the brain from feeling the aches or pains deeper in your muscles and joints, providing some short-term relief.
There isn’t a lot of evidence Deep Heat works on joints though — it can also be irritating on the skin and nose, so people with sensitive skin should use with caution in a well-ventilated room. 6/10
PERNATON GREEN LIPPED MUSSEL GEL
Fishy? This gel contains green lipped mussel, plus menthol and pine essential oils
CLAIM: This gel contains green lipped mussel, plus menthol and pine essential oils and ‘helps to cool and improve joint mobility’.
VERDICT: A study at the University of Otago in New Zealand in 2017 looked at the effect of a supplement containing extract of green lipped mussels, which are rich in omega-3s, but found no evidence to support its use in easing joint pain — though there was decreased use of paracetamol in some patients.
This effect was noted when the extract was taken orally. It’s unlikely you can absorb useful amounts in this gel form. 3/10
SEVEN SEAS JOINTCARE SUPPLEX & TURMERIC
Distinction: Omega-3 has some effect in rheumatoid arthritis, but not in osteoarthritis
Pack of 30, £18.99
CLAIM: This supplement contains turmeric extract, glucosamine, omega-3, vitamin C, vitamin D — ‘to help maintain normal bones’ — and manganese — which ‘contributes to the normal formation of connective tissue’.
VERDICT: Turmeric contains curcumin, which appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect. We don’t know yet whether it’s effective in osteoarthritis because there’s only limited trial evidence, although most studies so far use doses of 500–2,000mg, a lot more than the 85mg in one of these pills. Studies on glucosamine and joint health are inconclusive.
Omega-3 has some effect in rheumatoid arthritis, but not in osteoarthritis — and even then, you need closer to 500mg for a therapeutic dose. A cheaper alternative would be to eat grilled mackerel and add turmeric spices, once or twice a week. 5/10
Ziltch: There’s no evidence to support the use of copper bracelets for joint pain in arthritis
SABONA ORIGINAL COPPER BRACELET
CLAIM: ‘Publications include copper bracelets as a home remedy to possibly ease the pain from arthritis,’ says the maker, who adds that wearing them can help people absorb more copper than they’d get in their diets.
VERDICT: Copper is an important mineral for joint health but most people get enough from what they eat as it’s found in many foods, including seafood, liver, beans and nuts.
There’s no evidence to support the use of copper bracelets for joint pain in arthritis — or that the copper in them can even be absorbed by the body and used in a useful way. 0/10
ELYSIUM SPA EPSOM SALTS
No need: Just soaking in warm water will relax muscles, ease pain and loosen joints
CLAIM: Added to warm water, Epsom salts release magnesium, which advocates say you absorb through skin helping to relax muscles and reduce inflammation.
VERDICT: These salts may be a pleasant addition to a bath, but there is no scientific basis for their action on joint pain.
Just soaking in warm water will relax muscles, ease pain and loosen joints — provided they allow you to get in and out safely 6/10