Can magnesium help knee pain and osteoarthritis?

Marion Hauser, MS, RD

Some consider magnesium a miracle mineral. Its biological functions are far too numerous to provide here other than its protective functions in cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cholesterol metabolism, problems of fatigue, problems of sleep, and problems of depression and anxiety. In this article we will concentrate on magnesium’s beneficial effects on joint related pain.

Is magnesium good for joint pain?

As with any supplement or nutrition component of food, there is a controversy as to whether magnesium supplementation would help some one with joint pain. For each study that you find suggesting magnesium’s benefit in help with knee pain, you can find a study that says it doesn’t. There are those who say magnesium or any type of supplementation may provide a placebo effect. That is also entirely possible. If you are reading this article you are probably looking for magnesium’s benefits. So let’s look at some research.

Lower magnesium intake was associated with worse pain and function in knee osteoarthritis

People with higher serum magnesium levels had significantly lower risk of knee osteoarthritis

Sometimes we ask Magnesium to do a lot. A recurrent theme that I want to stress is that it is difficult for any medicine or supplement to undo or reverse years, even decades of degenerative knee or joint disease.

Magnesium’s role in inflammation and cartilage rebuilding in helping patients with osteoarthritis

So again, let’s always remember that supplements may have some benefit, but if you have significant knee pain or osteoarthritis breakdown, it is very unlikely that magnesium supplementation will reverse a degenerative knee condition. Some knees are too far gone for magnesium to help.

A 2016 study in the medical journal Life sciences (3) sought to “unravel” the role of magnesium in how it may help people with osteoarthritis. Here are the learning points.

Studying magnesium’s effect on inflammation, joint space and bone spurs

A 2015 study in the journal PLOS Public Library of Science one, (4) looked at  cross-sectional associations between dietary magnesium intake and radiographic knee osteoarthritis, joint space narrowing, and osteophytes (bone spurs).

The research team took these facts into account from previous studies that suggest that low magnesium levels could contribute to chronic inflammation and joint degenerative disease.

Conclusion point: The study found an association Magnesium and joint space in the knee suggesting that magnesium may help with joint space narrowing symptoms.

Combining Vitamin C and Magnesium

A November 2020 animal study in the medical journal Bioactive materials (5) found that while previously demonstrating that magnesium could be a therapeutic alternative for osteoarthritis through the management of inflammation and cartilage regeneration, it may not work well enough by itself. One reason is that oxidative stress in the body can create an inflammatory response beyond magnesium’s ability to handle it. This will lead to an accelerated cartilage breakdown. To that end supplementing magnesium with vitamin C may help. As we know vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and when combined with magnesium the researchers were able to show additive effects to significantly alleviate the joint destruction and pain. The researchers suggested that the combination of magnesium and vitamin C could inhibit bone spur formation and reduce inflammation in the knee synovium. Let me point out that this was an animal study using intravenous solutions of magnesium and vitamin C. We have to be realistic in understanding how much a combination of vitamin C and magnesium can help in degenerative joint and knee disease.

The family of magnesium rich foods include: Leafy Greens – Spinach and Chard, Pumpkin seeds, Yogurt, Almonds, Black beans, avocado, figs, bananas, and dark chocolate

Magnesium’s effect on pain

A July 2020 study published in the medical journal Nutrients (6) In terms of antinociceptive (pain blocking) action, magnesium prevents central sensitization (chronic pain leads to a problem of over sensitization of pain. In other words, the more pain you have, the longer you have it, the worse the pain is felt), and attenuates preexisting pain hypersensitivity (if you already suffer from over sensitization of pain (magnesium seems to be able to help). These beneficial effects of magnesium therapy have also been reported in patients with neuropathic pain, such as malignancy-related neurologic symptoms, diabetic neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia, and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. In addition, magnesium treatment is reportedly able to alleviate fibromyalgia, dysmenorrhea, headaches, and acute migraine attacks.”

Magnesium and joint related nerve pain

A Brazilian research team writing in the European journal of oral sciences (7) found that Magnesium deficiency was implicated in nerve pain in patients suffering from TMJ.  They wrote that their study’s findings may lead to a better understanding of central processing in the nociceptive trigeminal pathway (Trigeminal neuralgia is a very painful condition where pain radiates into the face and jaw) and the development of new approaches to treat orofacial pain with a TMJ origin.

A study published in the journal Magnesium research (8) went so far as to suggest that Magnesium promotes sciatic nerve regeneration. Let’s take a better look at this research:

This research was from the Department of Neurosurgery, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan.

A follow up research to this study (9) surrounds the possible use of a dissolvable magnesium wire place near sciatic nerve damage.  The magnesium is thought to be able to induce Schwann cells (cells that rebuild neurons, in essence cells that help rebuild nerves cells) to secrete nerve growth factor and promote the regeneration of nerve axons after central nervous system injury.

Dietary magnesium in humans with osteoarthritis average age 62

In a June 2019 study, (10)  researchers evaluated the relationship between dietary magnesium intake and prevalence of knee osteoarthritis. A topic that up to June 2019, was “poorly explored in the (medical research) literature.”

In summary, magnesium could help. May not help everyone. Some knees are too far gone.

Magnesium and overall reduction of joint related pain

The roll call of benefits for magnesium are long. As they relate to problems of joint pain magnesium has been found to:

The amazing healing power of food is seen throughout my articles on this site. Here are a few of them:

References for this article:

1 Shmagel A, Onizuka N, Langsetmo L, Vo T, Foley R, Ensrud K, Valen P. Low magnesium intake is associated with increased knee pain in subjects with radiographic knee osteoarthritis: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Osteoarthritis and cartilage. 2018 Feb 15. [Google Scholar]
2 Wu Z, Yang J, Liu J, Lian K. The relationship between magnesium and osteoarthritis of knee: A MOOSE guided systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine. 2019 Nov;98(45). [Google Scholar]
3 Li Y, Yue J, Yang C. Unraveling the role of Magnesium in osteoarthritis. Life sciences. 2016 Feb 15;147:24-9. [Google Scholar]
4 Zeng C, Li H, Wei J, Yang T, Deng ZH, Yang Y, Zhang Y, Yang TB, Lei GH. Association between dietary magnesium intake and radiographic knee osteoarthritis. PLoS One. 2015 May 26;10(5):e0127666. [Google Scholar]
5 Yao H, Xu J, Wang J, Zhang Y, Zheng N, Yue J, Mi J, Zheng L, Dai B, Huang W, Yung S. Combination of magnesium ions and vitamin C alleviates synovitis and osteophyte formation in osteoarthritis of mice. Bioactive materials. 2021 May 1;6(5):1341-52. [Google Scholar]
6 Shin HJ, Na HS, Do SH. Magnesium and pain. Nutrients. 2020 Aug;12(8):2184. [Google Scholar]
7 Cavalcante AL, Siqueira RM, Araujo JC, Gondim DV, Ribeiro RA, Quetz JS, Havt A, Lima AA, Vale ML. Role of NMDA receptors in the trigeminal pathway, and the modulatory effect of magnesium in a model of rat temporomandibular joint arthritis. European journal of oral sciences. 2013 Dec 1;121(6):573-83. [Google Scholar]
8 Pan HC, Sheu ML, Su HL, Chen YJ, Chen CJ, Yang DY, Chiu WT, Cheng FC. Magnesium supplement promotes sciatic nerve regeneration and down-regulates inflammatory response. Magnesium research. 2011 Jun 1;24(2):54-70. [Google Scholar]
9 Li BH, Yang K, Wang X. Biodegradable magnesium wire promotes regeneration of compressed sciatic nerves. Neural regeneration research. 2016 [Google Scholar]
10 Veronese N, La Tegola L, Caruso MG, Maggi S, Guglielmi G. The association between dietary magnesium intake and magnetic resonance parameters for knee osteoarthritis. Nutrients. 2019 Jun;11(6):1387. [Google Scholar]

This article was updated February 19, 2021

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