Osteoarthritis affects people from middle age onwards, an occurrence likely to increase as average age of the population rises. Physical aspects of the condition are accompanied by increased all-cause mortality and morbidity. Use of pharmaceutical medication may be unhelpful or undesired.
Much research focuses on the use of single herbs contrary to current Western herbal practice of combining several herbs with diet and lifestyle advice. This research aimed to explore this knowledge gap by eliciting details of strategies used to manage osteoarthritis.
A qualitative approach using audio recorded, semi-structured interviews, with additional questions to define practitioner demographics was used for the study. The study sample comprised eight herbalists, all members of either the National Institute of Medical Herbalists or the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy, each with a minimum two years in practice and experience of treating osteoarthritis. The resulting data was analysed using thematic analysis.
Practitioner demographics revealed a range of time in practice, choice of practice location and training establishment. Analysis of the interviews elicited five themes; patient picture, practitioners’ therapeutic strategy, herbal treatment, non-herbal treatment and practitioners’ perceived treatment outcomes. A core group of 11 frequently used herbs was identified with a further 33 herbs being used less often. All practitioners prescribed remedies internally with most also using topical treatments.
In conclusion, the patient picture was a diverse one with no clear picture of a ‘typical’ patient with osteoarthritis; however, consensus between practitioners’ treatment approaches, both herbal and non-herbal was high. Selected herbal remedies were consistent with literature found on some single herb studies. All herbalists were of the opinion that the herbal approach to osteoarthritis had a positive effect on the condition. These outcomes were usually perceived by reduced intake of painkillers and observing improved mobility or reduced inflammation.