Natural Home Remedies for Osteoarthritis: What Works?

Medically reviewed by Gregory Minnis, DBT on March 10, 2017Written by Kristeen Cherney

Do home remedies work for osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease. Treatment relies on a combination of conventional medicine and lifestyle changes. Medications can treat pain, but there can be side effects when you take these long-term. Home remedies, lifestyle changes, and natural remedies can help manage OA pain with fewer side effects. Certain methods may even prevent OA from getting worse.

Home remedies aren’t meant to replace your current treatment. But they may provide more relief for OA. It’s important, though, to discuss home remedies and lifestyle changes with your doctor before trying them.

Hot and cold compresses

When it comes to pain, hot and cold compresses may be very beneficial. They don’t cause the long-term side effects that medications might. Heat is helpful for joint stiffness, and cold compresses are best for joint pain.

Compresses can reduce muscle pain or spasms surrounding a joint. Making a compress can be as simple as using a warm or cold towel.

Read more: How to make a cold compress »

Epsom salt bath

Epsom salt baths can provide allover relief, especially for joint pain. The magnesium in Epsom salt may help with inflammation and pain. You can buy Epsom salt from a drugstore. These baths are safe enough to take as often as you’d like for 30 minutes at a time. Use 2 cups of Epsom salt in a bath of warm water at a temperature of about 102°F (38°C).

Topical ointments and creams

You may want to try topical versions as an alternative to oral over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. These gels and creams may contain aspirin or analgesics to numb the pain. You can apply them directly to the affected joints. These products can work well for areas that are near the skin surface, such as your knees.

Another topical home remedy is capsaicin. Capsaicin is a compound made from hot chili peppers. It works best when you apply it to painful joints three to four times per day. To avoid accidental eye exposure, wash hands after each use.

You may also want to try other ointments like Tiger Balm or horse liniment. Talk to your doctor before experimenting with any of these products.

Read more: Best pain creams for arthritis »

Support devices

Various types of assistive devices can offer added support without the need for medications. The exact devices you choose depend on the affected joints. Options include:

  • braces
  • canes
  • grabbing or gripping tools
  • knee taping (be sure to have your doctor or physical therapist show you first)
  • shoe inserts

Read more: What’s the best brace for OA? »

Natural remedies

Natural remedies are increasing in popularity for conditions like OA. Some people believe they may be safer since they have fewer side effects compared with traditional medications.

Talk to your doctor about the following natural remedies. “Natural” herbal supplements can carry side effects and interact with medicines you might take. Always be sure to buy supplements from a reputable source.

Green tea: Anti-inflammatory beverage

Green tea contains polyphenols. These compounds may help reduce inflammation and the need for medications. One study in Arthritis Research and Therapy reported green tea increased cartilage protection.

Due to the risk of liver problems and side effects from concentrated amounts, green tea is best taken in moderation.

Ginger: Pain reducers

Oral ginger is also noted for reducing pain from OA. According to a 2015 study in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, ginger taken long-term may even decrease the risk for OA-related disability. Due to the risk of side effects, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends using ginger moderately as a spice instead of supplement forms.

Read more: Make ginger tea for the benefits »

The biggest risk to ginger overdose is the withdrawal symptoms. Ginger can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, and heartburn. It may also interact with prescription medications, like Warfarin, because it’s an anticoagulant (blood thinner).

Turmeric (curcumin): Treats inflammation, pain, and stiffness

Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric. It’s is part of the ginger family, but may help OA in different ways. Studies show that the substance may fight inflammatory compounds. It may also help reduce pain and stiffness during an OA flare-up.

For the treatment of arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation recommends the following dosage options:

  • capsules: 400 to 600 milligrams up to three times per day
  • powdered root extract: 0.5 to 1 gram, three times per day

If taking turmeric, you may need to add black pepper to activate the herb’s benefits. While turmeric is generally safe it can cause nausea and may interact with blood thinners.

Read more: How to add turmeric to your diet »

Lifestyle changes

For more long-term relief, lifestyle changes are often effective. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and weight maintenance can help improve joint health and function. Over time, the muscles stabilizing your joints will strengthen and protect against damage.

Stay active

Exercise can be difficult with painful joints. But staying active can reduce pain in the long run, and even strengthen muscles to prevent further joint damage. The Arthritis Foundation says exercise is “the most effective nondrug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in osteoarthritis.”

The best types of exercises for OA use slight resistance, improve flexibility, offer an aerobic element, and are low impact. Options include:

  • bike riding
  • swimming
  • tai chi
  • walking
  • yoga

Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercises, especially if you haven’t been active before. The Arthritis Foundation recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week at a moderate intensity. You can also start with shorter periods of exercise and add time as you get stronger.

For example, you could start walking for 10 minutes and gradually increase the speed and length of your walks. If you’re new to exercise, you may find slight pain after your workouts. This could mean you need to take a day or two off and then resume your workout regimen. Don’t quit exercising altogether.

Eat OA-friendly foods

Eating a balanced diet can help you feel better and lose weight. Research shows that certain foods are especially beneficial for OA.

Eat this

  • broccoli
  • citrus fruits
  • fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (tuna, salmon, mackerel)
  • garlic (contains diallyl disulphide, which may reduce cartilage damage
  • green tea
  • low-fat dairy products (calcium and vitamin D may promote joint and bone health)
  • nuts
  • plant-based oils made from avocado, olives, safflower, and walnut

On the flipside, certain foods can aggravate OA symptoms by increasing body inflammation.

Avoid this

  • alcohol
  • aspartame (artificial sweetener)
  • salt
  • saturated and trans fat
  • sugar
  • white bread
  • rice

Maintain a healthy weight

According to the Arthritis Foundation, each pound of body weight puts the equivalent of three to six pounds on joints. Weight loss can go a long way in alleviating joint pain and OA prevention. This may also be helpful for people with OA in their knees and hips, as these joints bear a lot of weight.

When to see your doctor

OA is a chronic (lifelong) condition with no cure. Managing your condition and symptoms can go a long way in stopping further damage to your joints. Lifestyle changes and home and natural remedies can complement your treatment plan. They may even provide extra relief.

While such changes can make a big difference, it’s important to know when you need to see your doctor. You might need to make an appointment in the case of a flare-up, if your symptoms get worse, or if your current treatment plan isn’t helping. Your doctor should check your joint pain and stiffness for potential damage.

Read more: Treatments for osteoarthritis »

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