Arthritis is a group of painful and degenerative conditions marked by inflammation in the joints that causes stiffness and pain. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, gets worse with age and is caused by wear and tear over the years. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the joints as if they were foreign tissues. Because of this, rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disease.
Doctors traditionally treat arthritis with anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. However, some medications cause side effects, and a natural approach to pain relief is becoming more popular. Remember to consult your doctor before trying these natural remedies.
1. Lose weight
Your weight can make a big impact on the amount of pain you experience from arthritis. Extra weight puts more pressure on your joints — especially your knees, hips, and feet.
Reducing the stress on your joints by losing weight will improve your mobility, decrease pain, and prevent future damage to your joints.
2. Get more exercise
There are more benefits to exercise than just weight loss. Regular movement helps to maintain flexibility in your joints. Weight-bearing exercises such as running and walking can be damaging. Instead, try low-impact exercises such as water aerobics or swimming to flex your joints without adding further stress.
3. Use hot and cold therapy
Simple hot and cold treatments can make a world of difference when it comes to arthritis pain. Long, warm showers or baths — especially in the morning — help ease stiffness in your joints. Use an electric blanket or moist heating pad at night to keep your joints loose.
Cold treatments are best for relieving joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. Wrap a gel ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and apply it to painful joints for quick relief.
4. Try acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical treatment that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on your body. This is supposed to reroute energies and restore balance in your body. Acupuncture is the most researched complementary therapy and is recommended by the World Health Organization for treatment of over 100 different conditions.
It is thought that acupuncture has the ability to reduce arthritis pain. If you want to explore this treatment method, be sure to find a licensed and certified acupuncturist in your state.
5. Use meditation to cope with pain
Meditation and relaxation techniques may be able to help you reduce pain from arthritis by reducing stress and enabling you to cope with it better. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies have found that the practice of mindfulness meditation is helpful for some people with painful joints. Researchers also found that those with depression and arthritis benefitted the most from meditation. When stress is reduced, inflammation and thus swelling and pain drop.
6. Include the right fatty acids in your diet
Everyone needs omega-3 fatty acids in their diet for optimum health. These fats also help your arthritis. Fish oil supplements, which are high in omega-3s, have been shown to reduce joint stiffness and pain.
Another fatty acid that can help is gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA. It’s found in the seeds of certain plants such as evening primrose, borage, hemp, and black currants. You can also buy the oils of the seeds as a supplement. However, be sure to check with your doctor before taking them.
7. Add turmeric to dishes
Turmeric, the yellow spice common in Indian dishes, contains a chemical called curcumin that may help to reduce arthritis pain. The secret is its anti-inflammatory properties.
The NIH reports that turmeric given to lab rats reduced inflammation in their joints. More research on use of the supplement for humans is needed, but it can’t hurt to add this tasty spice to your dinners.
8. Get a massage
According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular massaging of arthritic joints can help reduce pain and stiffness and improve your range of motion. Work with a physical therapist to learn self-massage, or schedule appointments with a massage therapist regularly.
Your massage therapist should be experienced with working on people who have arthritis. Check with your doctor for a recommendation.
9. Consider herbal supplements
There are many kinds of herbal supplements on the market that claim to be able to reduce joint pain. Some of the herbs touted for arthritis pain include:
Always talk to your doctor before trying a new supplement to avoid side effects and dangerous drug interactions. Herbs are not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for quality, purity, or safety. Be sure to buy from a reputable source.
Does stress affect arthritis?
The connections between stress and inflammation are clear. Stress releases chemicals that effect the immune system, and this causes inflammation. As a result, arthritis flares up again. Going through life changes such as moving, the death of a loved one, financial concerns, or even a vacation require us to adapt, change routine, and worry. It’s important to recognize when you’re feeling stressed and worrying. Being self-aware of your body’s reaction will remind you to relax. What helps you relax? Here are some suggestions of ways to relax.
• Breathe slowly for two minutes. Focus on a long exhale and then allow the inhalation to enter your lungs gently.
• Be creative. Paint, doodle, write, or cook.
• Listen to music, watch a movie, or engage in some activity which will allow you to stop focusing on what is worrying you.
• Get out in nature and feel the sun on your face.
• Spend time with someone who makes you laugh. Laughing helps rid the body of stress and increases your love of life.
If you find stress, pain, and the worry about life and your arthritis are beginning to interfere with your quality of life, talk to your doctor about a referral to a specialist for more ways to reduce stress and improve your sense of peace.Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHTAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.