Osteoarthritis causes inflammation and pain of the joints — most often the hands, knees, and hips. It’s a common form of arthritis and a leading cause of disability worldwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 32.5 million Americans are affected by osteoarthritis and experience swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of movement in the affected joints.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids are frequently used to treat osteoarthritis, but they may be costly, can cause serious side effects in the gut, and aren’t effective for everyone.

Therefore, researchers continue to explore natural remedies that are safe and support the management of osteoarthritic symptoms without negative side effects.

One of these potential remedies is ashwagandha (W. somnifera), an Ayurvedic herb used extensively in traditional Indian medicine to treat arthritis, painful swelling, ulcers, fever, eyesores, diabetes, and several other ailments.

This article explains the benefits and risks of taking ashwagandha to manage osteoarthritis.

A bowl of ashwagandha powder with some of the plant's roots on the side.Share on Pinterest
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The use of ashwagandha — also called Indian ginseng, winter cherry, and Poison Gooseberry — dates back more than 3,000 years in traditional Indian medicine systems to treat a wide range of conditions.

In Ayurvedic medicine, it is considered a Rasayana herb, meaning it’s believed to rejuvenates the body and promote health of all tissues.

Conventional medicine categorizes it as an adaptogen, which is a natural plant compound that may help the body adapt to stress and prevent damage.

Ashwagandha may improve symptoms of osteoarthritis

Research has shown that the numerous benefits of ashwagandha include anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, pain-relieving, and anti-stress properties.

Across human and animal research, ashwagandha also appears to reduce knee joint pain, decrease swelling, slow degradation of joints, and improve pain and overall mobility of the osteoarthritic joints.

Therefore, it may support symptom management.

However, most of the human research studies we have used small sample sizes and were short-term. That means we require more research to determine the long-term effects of ashwagandha use on osteoarthritis.

Ashwagandha is generally safe for human consumption.

An 8-week study including 80 healthy adults demonstrated that ashwagandha root extract is safe for human use.

Similarly, human research in people with rheumatoid arthritis, another common form of arthritis, also showed that ashwagandha powder was safe.

Thus, ashwagandha is a potential safe, natural treatment for the management of osteoarthritis.

However, despite these promising findings, long-term research is lacking. More information is needed regarding drug-herb interactions between ashwagandha and other conventional medications used to manage osteoarthritis.

It is best to talk with a healthcare professional before taking ashwagandha or other herbs for the management of osteoarthritis symptoms.

Learn more about recommended dosages for ashwagandha here.

A note on choosing high quality supplements

While research suggests there are health benefits, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor or regulate the quality of supplements in the same way that it regulates clinical medications.

It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using supplements, and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products.

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The management of osteoarthritis symptoms includes a combination of therapies, such as:

  • physical therapy
  • safe physical activity that protects the joints, such as swimming or aqua-aerobics
  • use of supportive devices, such as crutches or walkers
  • weight loss, as appropriate
  • surgery, if needed
  • maintaining a diet with anti-inflammatory potential

Anti-inflammatory diets are rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, and other immune-boosting compounds that have the potential to fight inflammation in the body. These include certain herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Research indicates that adherence to an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, is linked to an improved quality of life in people with osteoarthritis.

Thinking about an anti-inflammatory diet? Check out this 7-day anti-inflammatory meal plan for inspiration.

Here are some common questions about ashwagandha and osteoarthritis.

Can ashwagandha help with knee pain?

Yes, ashwagandha may help with knee pain.

In a 12-week study among 60 participants with knee pain and discomfort, root extracts of the ashwagandha plant significantly reduced knee pain, stiffness, and disability, with benefits seen in as little as 4 weeks.

Does ashwagandha help with chronic pain?

The pain-relieving (or analgesic) benefits of ashwagandha have been consistently demonstrated.

In mice research, withaferin A — the main active compound in ashwagandha root extract — improved postoperative pain and chronic pain associated with nerve damage.

Likewise, the use of ashwagandha leaves in a review of a clinical human trial with 42 patients suggests that ashwagandha blocks pain receptors in the brain, which could reduce osteoarthritis pain and disability.

Does ashwagandha help your joints?

Ashwagandha extract significantly reduced the activity of collagenase enzymes, which break down joint cartilage, in research using mice.

Other research showed promising effects of ashwagandha in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and it may even improve joint pain in people with viral infections like the Chikungunya virus.

These findings suggest that ashwagandha may help to alleviate some joint ailments, but we need more human studies to be sure.

Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that causes inflammation and pain of the joints, affecting more than 32.5 million Americans. It is commonly treated with NSAIDs and opioids, but these are not without serious side effects.

Ashwagandha is a natural alternative that has been proven safe for human use. It may reduce the degradation of joints, pain, and swelling, and may help improve joint mobility in people living with osteoarthritis.

Although ashwagandha is considered safe for most people, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before trying it for the first time.