At least 54 million Americans have arthritis, according to the CDC. Of those, around 24 million cannot do certain activities because of it. Although prescribed medications and physical therapy help, some people need more treatments. At-home remedies, from heat therapy to diet to topical gels, can alleviate symptoms. Learn which natural arthritis treatments you can try.
Exercise Does Not Encourage Arthritis–It Helps!
Some arthritis patients might believe that exercise only causes more pain. But that is not true. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Aging Research, working out “seems to improve overall function in RA without any proven detrimental effects to disease activity.” In other words, exercise only helps you.
The CDC explains that working out boosts joint flexibility, which makes movement easier and less painful. Versus Arthritis recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. This can be moderate, from walking to gardening to climbing the stairs.
More Weight, More Pain
Of the 54 million Americans with arthritis, 39 million are overweight or obese. This is because obesity can worsen–or perhaps cause–arthritis. In 2014, a study in Obesity Reviews confirmed that overweight people are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
In Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers tested the effect of weight loss on arthritis patients. When participants lost ten pounds, their knees were subject to 40 fewer pounds. Even a little bit of weight loss can relieve pain in patients. If you have arthritis, strive to achieve a healthy weight.
Warm Up The Aching Joint
If you experience arthritis pain, try heat therapy. Warmth encourages joint healing by dilating blood vessels, which brings more nutrients to the area, explains Arthritis Health. In 2003, researchers found that applying heat three times per week decreases joint pain and increases movement.
You can apply heat through an electric heating pad, warm water bottle, or disposable hand warmer. Press the heat onto the area for 20 to 30 minutes, and then take it off for at least ten minutes. If it feels too hot, cover the heating pad with a towel.
Cold Therapy Works, Too
Cold therapy can work just as well as heat. According to Cleveland Clinic, cold reduces swelling and inflammation, which improves both pain and joint function. In the journal Cochrane, researchers confirmed that cold packs can relieve inflammation for arthritis patients.
Eric Robertson, the director of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Graduate Physical Therapy Education, recommends limiting cold therapy. Grab an ice bag, frozen veggies, or frozen towel, and apply it for only eight minutes at a time. Then, remove it for at least 10 minutes. Putting it on for too long can damage the tissues.
Massages Are Scientifically Backed
Massage will make anyone feel better, but does it really help arthritis? According to research, yes. According to research in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, massage may provide short-term relief. During the study, patients with knee arthritis had less stiffness and better motor function after getting a massage.
The Arthritis Society says that certain massages are better for arthritis patients. For instance, some focus on certain joints, and others aim to decrease inflammation. Talk to your doctor and a Registered Massage Therapist about an appropriate treatment plan.
Take A Hot Bath Or Shower
Baths and showers are another form of heat therapy; for some people, they can be more effective. According to the Journal of Medicine Research, moist heat can penetrate tissues more quickly than dry heat. In other words, moist warmth can alleviate your joints faster.
Physical therapist Carol Huegel says that water can relieve pressure on joints. Since your limbs float, you will have less weight pressing on your muscles. He recommends keeping your bath or shower between 92 and 96 degrees. While bathing, flex your joints to increase blood flow.
Some Topical Gels Can Help
The Arthritis Foundation recommends certain topical gels for arthritis patients. These include Topical NSAIDs, or painkillers. According to research in Seminars in Arthritis & Rheumatism, Topical NSAIDs offer similar pain relief as pills. Fortunately, they do not have as many health risks as ingestible NSAIDs.
Doreen Stiskal, the chair of Seton Hall University’s physical therapy department, suggests some other gels. Capsaicin, the same ingredient in turmeric, can lower inflammation as a gel. In February 2020, the FDA approved Voltaren Gel for arthritis pain. Talk to your doctor about gels that are safe to use.
Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If you want fewer arthritis aches, consider eating anti-inflammatory foods. Arthritis Health explains that anti-inflammatory foods can remove free radicals and oxidative stress that would otherwise irritate the joints. Foods with high antioxidants tend to relieve arthritis, as well as other chronic conditions like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Frank Hu, a nutrition and epidemiology professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, recommends apples, blueberries, and leafy greens. Other anti-inflammatory foods include coffee, olive oil, tomatoes, nuts, fatty fish, berries, and some beans.
Many Arthritis Patients Need More Vitamin D
In 2016, scientists discovered that rheumatoid arthritis patients tend to have low levels of vitamin D. This vitamin keeps the muscles, bones, and joints healthy. According to rheumatologist Elizabeth Ortiz, vitamin D can control pain levels and inflammation in the body.
“Maintaining an adequate vitamin D level is essential in the management of rheumatoid arthritis,” she told Keck Medicine of USC. To soak up more of this vitamin, go outside for ten to 30 minutes. You can also eat foods with vitamin D, including eggs, yogurt, oily fish, or some breakfast cereals.
For Hands And Feet, Try A Paraffin Wax Bath
If you have arthritis in the elbows, hands, or feet, ask your doctor about paraffin wax baths. A paraffin wax unit melts wax, and when you completely submerge the body part, you’ll receive excellent heat therapy. During a 2013 study, patients who tried paraffin baths had less pain and tenderness afterward.
According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, arthritis patients can do paraffin baths if they see a therapist or buy the appropriate technology. Patients coat the hands or feet in wax six to eight times. Then, they wrap it in plastic for around ten minutes.
How Meditation Relieves Pain
Emerging research suggests that meditation can relieve arthritis pain. During a 2013 pilot study, participants engaged in an eight-week meditation program for knee arthritis. By the end, they had less knee pain and a happier mood.
Meditation expert Andrea Minick Rudolph says that negative thinking makes pain worse. When people focus on the pain, they feel it more intensely. Mindfulness, and even active meditations like yoga, can assuage stress. Less stress means fewer arthritis aches and a better mood, explains the Arthritis Foundation. If you haven’t tried meditation, give it a shot.
Evidence For Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a scientifically-backed treatment for arthritis. Although some studies found no connection between acupuncture and joint pain, others have. In 2018, researchers reported that acupuncture can alleviate pain “without adverse effects.” It lowers inflammation, which causes aching and burning sensations in the joints.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, research has indicated that acupuncture can help osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Is it a placebo effect? Perhaps, but it does not matter, says clinical professor of medicine Andrew L. Avins. If acupuncture appointments heal you, why not do it?
Work On Getting High-Quality Sleep
Rheumatoid arthritis patients tend to get poor sleep because of their symptoms, according to the Journal of Clinical Medicine. Unfortunately, this becomes a vicious cycle where sleeplessness causes more pain. Dr. Yvonne Lee, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that sleep and arthritis can be a double-edged sword.
According to Lee, insomnia directly impacts the central nervous system, which regulates pain. When this system becomes abnormal, people can feel more pain from the inflammation in the body. If you want less severe arthritis symptoms, work with your doctor to achieve high-quality sleep.
For Easy, Pain-Relieving Exercise, Go Swimming
If walking or running places too much strain on your joints, try swimming. Physical therapists frequently recommend water exercises for arthritis patients. According to the University of Washington Medicine, water’s buoyancy supports the joints and helps you exercise more easily. It also keeps the joints moving, providing a healthy workout.
In 2007, a study in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders compared land exercises to water ones. When arthritis patients worked out in water, they reported feeling “feeling much better or very much better” compared to land exercises. Give it a try!
You Should Probably Eat More Omega-3s
Everyone needs omega-3 fatty acids, but arthritis patients can especially benefit from it. According to the Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology, several studies have linked omega-3s to arthritis. They alleviate symptoms such as swelling, tenderness, and joint pain.
During a 2016 study, arthritis patients took omega-3 supplements throughout 12 weeks. By the end, they had less swelling and pain, similar to arthritis medications. While you can take omega-3 supplements, you can also get it through foods. Eggs, fish, plant oils, nuts, dairy, seeds, and soy beverages all provide omega-3s.
To Prevent Symptoms, Limit Sugar Consumption
Yale rheumatologist Betty Hsiao told WebMD that when her patients eat sugar, they report flare-ups. That is not a coincidence. In 2018, a review of 66 studies in Nutrients analyzed the effects of sugar. Long-term sugar consumption is linked to chronic inflammation, which makes arthritis symptoms worse.
Some research suggests that sugar might even cause arthritis. In The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists found that drinking sugary beverages raises the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. If you do not want your symptoms to get worse, avoid over-consuming sugar.
Is Tai Chi Better Than Physical Therapy?
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that incorporates meditation. Researchers have compared tai chi to standard physical therapy. In 2016, research in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that tai chi had more long-lasting benefits than physical therapy.
For arthritis patients, this can help with aches and mobility. According to a 2009 study in Arthritis Rheumatology, tai chi can enhance joint function, soothe pain, and alleviate depression. Although tai chi is not a replacement for medical physical therapy, it can be incorporated into your arthritis treatment plan.
All The Benefits Of Yoga For Arthritis Patients
Yoga is another form of exercise that has special benefits for arthritis patients. In 2010, researchers analyzed 56 studies on yoga. Although studies on yoga and arthritis are lacking, the researchers still confirmed that yoga has a positive effect on joint pain and flexibility.
The John Hopkins Arthritis Center brings up other benefits of yoga. For one, it increases balance, which can be difficult for patients with arthritis in the legs, feet, or knees. Those who practice yoga also have less joint pain overall and more physical energy.
Consider Electrical Stimulation Therapy, Or TENs
TENs stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is a type of therapy used by chiropractors and physical therapists, and it can help with joint pain. In 2003, scientists tested TENs therapy on arthritis patients. After three weeks, participants felt less muscle soreness compared to a placebo.
How does it work? According to the University of Iowa, TENs sends electric shocks that encourage the brain to release more endorphins. These hormones prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Talk to your physical therapist about TENs; most use it 30 minutes before a workout.
How Aromatherapy Eases Joint Pain
Did you know that aromatherapy can help arthritis patients? Although few studies have looked into aromatherapy and arthritis, many have looked into pain. In 2016, a study in Pain Research and Treatment found that aromatherapy can soothe pain, especially when paired with other treatments.
“Aromatherapy is effective because it works directly on the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center,” explains Mehmet Oz, the director of Columbia University Medical Center’s Integrative Medicine Center. Because the brain cannot inhibit scents, it has an instant effect. Certain smells are known to reduce pain, including lavender, ginger, bergamot, vanilla, and citrus.