Arthritis plagues so many of us; over 40% of people over 70 have osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. It’s not curable, and the most common treatment is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. But because overuse of NSAIDs can cause kidney problems, many arthritis sufferers seek alternative therapies. Natural supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and vincaria (also known as cat’s claw), are popular, but supplements like these can interact dangerously with prescription medications. And while magnets and copper jewelry are not dangerous, they don’t really work, so where can arthritis patients turn for natural remedies? We have a few suggestions; here are seven safe, natural ways to treat arthritis without medication.
A recent study has shown that just 10 minutes of exercise a day can stave off disability caused by arthritis. It’s important for people with arthritis – especially in the hips, knees, ankles, and feet – to stay active to maintain mobility. Consider low-impact exercise like walking and water aerobics. Stationary cycling is a good cardio workout that won’t stress load-bearing joints, and stretching and yoga are great for flexibility.
An arthritis-fighting diet includes foods that can lower inflammation, reduce cartilage loss, and strengthen bones. Some of the best foods to eat are fruits and vegetables, especially cherries, citrus, and broccoli, nuts, foods high in omega 3s (fish like salmon, tuna, and herring, and soy products like edamame and tofu) and olive oil. Also try green tea for its antioxidants called polyphenols that have been shown to reduce cartilage destruction and cook with garlic for its potential to limit cartilage-damaging enzymes.
Foods to avoid include sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, omega 6 fatty acids (found in oils like peanut, corn, and vegetable), and refined carbohydrates. You should also avoid or limit alcohol.
Losing weight can ease the strain on arthritic joints and can reduce your pain. A healthy weight is especially important if you have arthritis in your knees, hips, or ankles. Studies on patients with osteoarthritis in their knees showed that each pound of weight lost took four pounds of pressure off each knee.
Acupuncture – the treatment of pain by the insertion of very fine needles into the skin – has been shown to relieve pain caused by many chronic conditions, including osteoarthritis. A 2013 study showed that acupuncture was better at relieving knee pain than either standard care or exercise.
Research has shown that massage can ease the pain and stiffness that come with arthritis as well as improving range of motion and hand grip strength. Massage can also lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety.
Heat and Cold Treatments
Heat treatments, like a warm bath or a heating pad, work best for relaxing stiff joints and enhancing circulation. Cold treatments, which can include applying gel packs or submerging the arthritic joint in an ice bath, can dull acute pain. Heat and cold are low-cost, non-invasive treatments; experiment and see which works best for you.
Occupational therapy means working with a therapist to make sure you can still do – and continue to do – day-to-day tasks like using a knife or doing laundry. Occupational therapists can show you how to perform tasks in different ways to minimize pain, and help by prescribing splints or other assistive devices if necessary. They also can show you exercises to relieve pain and maintain flexibility. Occupational therapy is all about managing arthritis while continuing to do what you need to do.
If you’re researching alternative remedies for arthritis, remember that some natural supplements that claim to relieve arthritis pain, like autumn crocus and aconite, can be downright dangerous, especially when they interact with other medications. Always ask your doctor before taking any supplements or changing your self-treatment for arthritis.