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Can Functional Medicine Cure Osteoarthritis?

Can Functional Medicine Cure Osteoarthritis?

By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Tuesday, August 1st, 2023
Can Functional Medicine Cure Osteoarthritis

Definition of Osteoarthritis

Cartilage disintegration characterizes Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease. This protective tissue cushions the ends of bones within joints. It frequently affects knees and other weight-bearing joints, hips, spine, and hands. Osteoarthritis causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility, significantly impacting an individual’s quality of life.

Explanation of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine focuses on the interconnectedness of the body’s systems, a medical approach that targets the underlying causes of illness and encourages optimum health. It focuses on a personalized, patient-centered approach and acknowledges the significance of lifestyle factors in health and disease. Functional medicine practitioners collaborate with patients to create individualized treatment plans that address the unique root causes of their health concerns.

Overview of Osteoarthritis

Causes and Risk Factors

Osteoarthritis’ precise etiology has yet to be completely understood. Still, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Some of the common risk factors include aging, obesity, joint injuries or repetitive stress, genetic predisposition, and certain occupations that involve joint strain.

Symptoms and Progression

The symptoms of Osteoarthritis typically include joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling, and reduced range of motion. These symptoms tend to worsen over time as the cartilage continues to deteriorate. In advanced stages, Osteoarthritis can cause significant pain and disability, affecting daily activities and overall well-being.

Conventional Treatments and Limitations

Conventional treatments for Osteoarthritis primarily focus on managing symptoms. They may include pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and, in severe cases, joint replacement surgery. While these treatments can provide temporary relief, they often have limitations. They may not address the underlying causes of the disease.

Understanding Functional Medicine

Definition and Principles

Functional medicine is a systems-based approach that identifies and treats the underlying causes of disease. It views the body as an interconnected network of systems, and any imbalance or dysfunction in one area can have ripple effects throughout the body. The principles of functional medicine include the following:

  • We are focusing on individualized care.
  • Understanding the patient’s unique genetic and environmental factors.
  • Promoting optimal function of the body’s systems.

Focus on Root Causes

Functional medicine aims to identify and address the underlying root causes of a health condition rather than solely focusing on managing symptoms. By understanding the specific imbalances or dysfunctions contributing to a disease, functional medicine practitioners can develop targeted treatment plans that address these root causes and support the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

Individualized Approach

Each person is unique, and functional medicine recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare. To develop personalized treatment plans, functional medicine practitioners consider an individual’s genetics, lifestyle, environment, and health history. This approach allows for tailored interventions that are more likely to be effective and sustainable for the individual.

Emphasis on Lifestyle Modifications

Functional medicine strongly emphasizes the role of lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, stress management, and sleep, in promoting health and preventing disease. By addressing these modifiable lifestyle factors, functional medicine aims to optimize the body’s function and create an environment that supports healing and overall well-being.

Functional Medicine Approaches to Osteoarthritis

Identifying Underlying Imbalances

Functional medicine approaches Osteoarthritis by identifying and addressing the underlying imbalances contributing to the disease. These imbalances may include genetic factors, chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, gut health issues, and nutritional deficiencies.

  • Genetic Factors

While genetics play a role in Osteoarthritis, functional medicine recognizes that genes are not the sole determinant of disease. Understanding an individual’s genetic predispositions can help inform personalized treatment plans and guide interventions to mitigate the impact of genetic factors on the development and progression of Osteoarthritis.

  • Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress contribute to Osteoarthritis progression. Functional medicine interventions aim to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress through targeted dietary and lifestyle modifications, as well as the use of specific nutritional supplements.

Emerging research suggests a link between gut health, microbiome, and Osteoarthritis. Functional medicine practitioners may evaluate and address gut health issues, such as intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) and imbalances in the gut microbiome, as part of the treatment plan for Osteoarthritis.

  • Nutritional Deficiencies

Functional medicine recognizes that nutritional deficiencies can contribute to joint health issues. Addressing specific nutritional deficiencies through dietary changes and targeted supplementation may help support joint health and reduce the progression of Osteoarthritis.

Dietary and Nutritional Interventions

Functional medicine approaches Osteoarthritis by implementing dietary and nutritional interventions to support joint health and reduce inflammation.

  • Anti-inflammatory Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on consuming whole, nutrient-dense foods while minimizing processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats. It typically includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, herbs, and spices with anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Nutritional Supplements

Certain dietary supplements, including omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and turmeric, have shown promise in reducing inflammation and supporting joint health. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend specific supplements based on individual needs and preferences.

Keeping a healthy weight is essential for regulating Osteoarthritis. Extra weight places extra strain on the joints, exacerbating symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners can guide healthy weight management strategies, including personalized dietary recommendations and exercise plans.

Lifestyle Modifications

Functional medicine recognizes the importance of lifestyle modifications in managing Osteoarthritis and improving overall well-being.

  • Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular exercise and physical activity can help strengthen the muscles around the joints, improve flexibility, reduce pain, and enhance overall function. Functional medicine practitioners can recommend appropriate exercises and activities based on an individual’s abilities and limitations.

  • Stress Management Techniques

Chronic stress can worsen inflammation and contribute to pain perception. Functional medicine emphasizes using stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and mindfulness practices to help individuals manage stress and reduce its impact on osteoarthritis symptoms.

  • Sleep Optimization

Sleep is vital for overall health and healing. Functional medicine practitioners may guide on optimizing sleep habits and creating a sleep-friendly environment to support the body’s natural repair processes.

Complementary Therapies

Functional medicine recognizes the potential benefits of complementary therapies in managing osteoarthritis symptoms and supporting overall joint health.

  • Acupuncture

Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine technique, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific body points. It has been demonstrated to aid in reducing inflammation and enhancing joint function in individuals with Osteoarthritis.

  • Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care emphasizes the alignment, including the vertebrae and joints, and the function of the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors use manual adjustments and other techniques to increase joint mobility and decrease Osteoarthritis-related discomfort.

Certain herbs and botanicals have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that may help alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners trained in herbal medicine may recommend specific herbal remedies or formulations to support joint health.

Evidence and Research on Functional Medicine for Osteoarthritis

While functional medicine approaches to Osteoarthritis is gaining recognition, it’s important to note that the evidence base is still evolving. A growing body of research is exploring the effectiveness of functional medicine interventions, including dietary and lifestyle modifications and complementary therapies, in managing osteoarthritis symptoms and improving overall joint health. However, more rigorous studies, including randomized controlled trials, are needed to evaluate functional medicine’s benefits and limitations for Osteoarthritis.


Functional medicine offers a promising approach to managing Osteoarthritis by addressing the underlying causes of the disease and promoting optimal joint health. By employing personalized treatment plans incorporating dietary and lifestyle modifications, nutritional interventions, and complementary therapies, functional medicine practitioners aim to alleviate symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve overall well-being. Further research and collaboration between functional medicine and conventional medicine are essential to enhance our understanding of Osteoarthritis and develop comprehensive, evidence-based approaches to its management.

About the author

Dr. Patrick Lovegrove