Harvard Health Letter

Knees in need

Arthritis sufferers look for answers after a large study finds that glucosamine and chondroitin are ineffective for many.

If your knees ache and creak, you've got lots of company. At least a quarter of everyone over age 55 has had a significant problem with knee pain in the past year. Bad cases can be disabling. Usually the cause is osteoarthritis, a breakdown of the joint cartilage that also causes damage to the bone beneath. There's no cure, which leaves ample room for hope, hype, and halfway measures — and some strange experimentation. Several years ago, German researchers reported that applying leeches to an osteoarthritic knee relieved symptoms. Apparently, leech saliva has some painkilling properties.

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