How does Chondroitin Relieve Joint Pain?

In order to understand the pharmacology of chondroitin sulphate and why it is effective for relieving joint pain, we have to understand the condition it is used in. Chondroitin sulphate is a naturally occurring glycoaminoglycan (GAG) in the human body. It is a highly charged amino sugar produced and salt blend distributed in cartilage tissue surfaces. It is responsible for maintaining cell structure, articular cartilage repair and also has a cushioning effect on joints.

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Chondroitin is important in keeping cartilage and cells healthy as it forms an extracellular matrix that helps cells retain water and consequently retain their structure. Decrease of chondroitin sulphate in body cells is associated with an increase in age and leads to an arthritis condition known as Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition which leads to deterioration of articular cartilage causing severe pain, swelling and reduced joint mobility. Articular cartilage is the material that gives joints their elasticity and mobility.

Chondroitin sulphate is found in dietary supplements used as an alternative in treatment of Osteoarthritis. These supplements are derived from cartilaginous tissues of cow and pig; similarly it can be obtained from shark, fish and bird cartilage. Dosage is usually in the range of 800mg to 1200mg per day.

Chondroitin sulphate’s mechanism of action in alleviation of joint pains can be analyzed in severalparts;

Anti- inflammatory activity:

Chondroitin sulphate belongs to a group of substances known as analgesics; analgesics alleviate pain by reducing inflammation. These substances are important in the synthesis of degenerative enzymes and substances like hyaluronic acid that contribute to damage of cartilage matrix and death of articular chonchordytes.

Electrostatic activity:

Osteoarthritis is attributed to localized deficiency in natural substances including chondroitin sulphate. The highly negative charges in chondroitin sulphate groups generate repulsion between adjacent cartilage increasing resistance to compression hence improving flexibility and relieving pain.  These benefits are especially helpful for relieving joint pain using capsules or “sports creams” that deliver chondroitin through the skin – which has been shown very successful.

Direct anti-degenerative action:

Chondroitin sulphate breaks down degenerative enzymes by inhibiting proteolytic activity; this entails breakdown of protein component in cells. Chondroitin sulphate chains are linked to components of proteins, the linking of proteins and chondroitin ensures that the cartilage proteins are not degenerated by protease enzymes.


The presence of chondroitin sulphate in joint areas attracts moisture and the extracellular matrix it provides to cells maintains water content in cartilage and this improves joint flexibility and consequently alleviates pain…making chondroitin supplements very popular with physicians and chiropractors for helping to relieve pain related to injuries or diseases such as arthritis.

Chondroitin sulphate is usually administered together with glucosamine. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that is inherent in cells and tissues; it helps in maintaining cell elasticity and stimulates generations of cartilage building proteins.

Research has shown Chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine are effective remedies for joint pains associated with osteoarthritis. The use of these drugs has not been linked to any significant side effect, but glucosamine has been related to increased abdominal gas and softened stools. Research done on rats has also raised the possibility that glucosamine increases insulin resistance; a major cause of diabetes. People with diabetes should monitor closely their blood sugar if they are using glucosamine. It should also be noted that chondroitin is majorly used in veterinary medicine and is not approved for human consumption.