Degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease at all. It’s a condition that results from a damaged spinal disc. When a disc suffers trauma, it’s unable to repair itself, allowing its cartilage to begin degenerating. As the disc degenerates, you may begin to experience periodic episodes of pain, some loss in your range of motion and less flexibility in your back. Treatment for this condition often relies on pain medications, physical therapy and surgical procedures. Some people, however, turn to complementary and alternative courses of care. A combination of glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane is one option. Talk to your doctor before taking these or any other supplement to treat degenerative disc disease.
A case study published in the June 2003 “Biomedical Central Complementary and Alternative Medicine” found that oral intake of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may help reverse symptoms of spinal disc degeneration. The study participant was given three capsules a day for nine months and two capsules a day for another 15 months. Each capsule contained 500 mg of glucosamine, 400 mg of chondroitin sulfate and 66 mg of manganese ascorbate. After just six months of use, his range of motion improved. And by the end of the study, he reported better strength and flexibility of the back, as well as less pain while engaging this region of the body.
Glucosamine and chondroitin appear to increase the level of fluid in spinal discus, which helps correct protrusions and restore some height to the discs. Also, the supplements seem to inhibit further degeneration, suggesting that glucosamine and chondroitin may hold a therapeutic benefit for this condition. However, these compounds have limitations. They don’t appear to improve fully degenerated discs, so supplements are best taken in earlier stages of the condition. More extensive research is necessary.
Some glucosamine chondroitin supplements contain methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM. Unlike the other two compounds, MSM doesn't do anything for the degeneration. Rather, it's used to reduce joint pain, particularly when associated with osteoarthritis in the knee, suggesting it may help reduce discomfort associated with degenerative disc disease. But studies are limited on its efficacy in treating disc degeneration and other spinal issues, so discuss its use with your doctor.
Although degeneration of a disc in the spine causes pain, it isn’t usually continuous or severe, according to Dr. Peter Ullrich, an orthopedic surgeon with the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin. In fact, most people with this condition are active and healthy. If you are experiencing severe or prolonged bouts of pain, you may not be suffering from this condition at all, and glucosamine and chondroitin may not be of benefit. Talk to your doctor to determine the source of your back pain.
The use of glucosamine and chondroitin to treat any condition is still considered complementary and alternative. Always follow your doctor’s instructions when you're caring for your back. Talk to your doctor to make sure that these supplements won’t interfere with another course of treatment.
- Cedars-Sinai: Degenerative Disc Disease
- Spine Health; What is Degenerative Disc Disease?; Peter Ullrich; May 2000
- “Biomedical Central Complementary and Alternative Medicine”; Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate Supplementation to Treat Symptomatic Disc Degeneration: Biochemical Rationale and Case Report; Wim van Blitterswijk, et al.; June 2003