Mud Treatments Soothe Arthritis Pain

By Salynn Boyles
WebMd

(Aug. 26.) Looking for a quick and dirty way to relieve knee arthritis pain? New research from Israel shows that mineral-rich mud compresses may do the trick, but some arthritis experts aren't so sure.

Mud treatments have long been popular at spas throughout the world, but there is little scientific evidence to back up claims of their healing powers.

In the newly published study, researchers from Ben Gurion University found that patients treated with mud compresses taken from the mineral-rich Dead Sea reported less knee pain from osteoarthritis. Far fewer patients treated with mud without minerals reported improvement.

The researchers say that treatments with the mineral-rich mud could augment conventional medical therapies for the relief of knee arthritis pain. Their findings were reported in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology.

But experts say the study, funded by the company that markets the Dead Sea mud, is far from conclusive.

"The Arthritis Foundation believes that mud therapy has not been well studied in arthritis, and the role of mud therapy to relieve pain or improve joint mobility is unproven," John H. Klippel, medical director of the Arthritis Foundation, tells WebMD.

Judith Horstman, who wrote The Arthritis Foundation's Guide to Alternative Therapies, tells WebMD that she has heard little about the use of mud for the treatment of arthritis. But she says other alternative treatments that once seemed extreme have become almost mainstream in recent years.

For example, many studies have shown that the nutritional supplements glucosamine and chondroitin relieve joint pain in patients with knee arthritis. And at least one study showed that glucosamine actually slows the progression of osteoarthritis.

And exercises that strengthen muscles without putting stress on the joints are now considered essential in the treatment of arthritis. Recent studies suggest the ancient Chinese practice known as Tai Chi, which combines meditation with slow, fluid movement, can be very beneficial for people with arthritis. The circular motion involved in the exercise relieves joint stiffness and helps improve balance.

"Unfortunately, exercise is considered an alternative therapy because so few people do it," says Horstman, who recently co-authored a book on Tai Chi for arthritis patients. "Exercise is among the least popular, but most effective, therapies for knee osteoarthritis."

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