Arthritis is a major cause of disability throughout the world. More than 50 million adults and 3,00,000 children are affected by this condition in America. The symptoms of arthritis include swelling, pain and stiffness, and reduced range of motion. The conventional treatment of arthritis is anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. Though these treatments are helpful, they can lead to some side effects.
Fortunately, many natural remedies can relieve the symptoms of arthritis and slow down its progression. While some of these treatments like dietary changes and heat and cold therapy can be done at home, you will need a professional for natural treatments like chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is not a single disease, but the term used to refer to a group of conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation. The most common symptoms of arthritis are a pain in joints, swelling, and stiffness. These symptoms can get worse over time. Severe arthritis can cause chronic pain and the inability to do daily activities like climbing stairs. Sometimes arthritis can cause permanent joint changes.
Types of arthritis
1. Degenerative arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis, which occurs when the cartilage wears away, and the bone rubs against bone and causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. The risk factors for osteoarthritis include weight, family history, age, and previous injury.
2. Inflammatory arthritis
Rheumatic arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are types of inflammatory arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints with uncontrolled inflammation. It leads to joint erosion and can damage internal organs, eyes, and other parts of the body.
3. Infectious arthritis
Sometimes bacterium, virus, or fungus can enter the joint and cause inflammation. These include salmonella, chlamydia, and hepatitis C.
4. Metabolic arthritis
Some people have high levels of uric acid, and they aren’t able to get rid of it quickly. When uric acid builds up in the body, it forms needle-like crystals in the joints, which can lead to pain or a gout attack. If the uric acid levels aren’t reduced, this condition can become chronic.
Natural remedies for arthritis
1. Lose weight
The best treatment for arthritis is to maintain a healthy weight and, if necessary, to lose weight. Extra weight puts pressure on the joints, mainly your knees, hips, and feet. According to the Arthritis Foundation, your knee gains three pounds of additional stress for every pound of weight you gain. Over the years, the extra pounds cause the cartilage of the joints to break down more quickly than usual (1).
Reduce the stress and pressure on your joints by losing weight. Shedding weight also reduces pain in the joints, which will help you to feel and move better and prevent future damage to joints.
Exercising is highly beneficial for people with arthritis. Not only does it help you lose weight, but it also helps in relieving joint stiffness and pain and improving stiffness and mood. Stretching helps in improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and improve your range of motion. Walking is a low impact exercise that is recommended for people with arthritis. Riding a stationary bike is also a safe way to get your joints moving and improving cardiovascular health.
Aquatic exercises are also highly beneficial for people with arthritis. Water helps support body weight and relieves pressure on the joints.
3. Heat and cold treatments
These treatments are highly effective in relieving arthritis pain. Cold therapy restricts blood vessels, which helps to slow circulation, reduce joint swelling and inflammation, and numbs the pain. Wrap some ice cubes in a cotton towel and apply it to the affected area. Alternatively, you can also submerge the painful joint in ice water. Apply cold treatment for only 15 minutes at a time and take at least 30 minutes to break between each session.
Heat treatment relaxes the muscle, soothes stiff joints, and increases blood flow. Put a hot water bottle or a heating pad on the joint that is paining. A warm bath helps to ease stiff muscles. You can also apply warm paraffin wax to the aching joints.
Acupuncture is a Chinese medical treatment that involves inserting fine needles at particular points on the skin. It relieves pain by diverting or changing painful sensations that are sent to the brain from the damage tissues and by stimulating the body’s pain-relieving hormones. When you begin the treatment, the pain relief lasts only a short time. But with repeated treatment, there are can long-term benefits. Look for a licensed and certified acupuncturist for this treatment.
5. Chiropractic care
Chiropractic care is a safe and non-invasive way to manage and relieve arthritis pain. Chiropractic adjustments help in reducing joint restrictions or misalignments in the spine and other joints of the body. They help to reduce inflammation and improve the function of the joints. Chiropractic adjustments help increase joint mobility; improve the nervous system function and spinal health, which allows the body to manage arthritis symptoms better. Chiropractic care helps to reduce pain, decrease inflammation, improve range of motion and flexibility, and increase activity.
Massage is a popular therapy for relieving symptoms of arthritis-like pain and stiffness of joints, anxiety. It also helps improve the range of motion and promotes restful sleep. According to a study from Duke University, full-body massage sessions help to improve joint mobility and alleviate pain in people with arthritis (2).
Massages are traditionally used for improving flexibility, reducing stress, and easing the pain. Therapeutic massage therapy helps achieve qualitative muscle release in the affect joint region and also alleviate the deteriorating effects of arthritis. Make sure you get a good massage therapist who has worked with people that have arthritis.
7. Magnet therapy
Magnetic straps, bracelets, and pads have become a popular option for people with arthritis looking for pain relief. These products are said to work by stimulating the release of the body’s natural painkillers or by increasing the blood flow to the tissue. They are generally considered safe to use.
A 2004 study that involved 194 people with hip or knee arthritis showed that wearing magnetic bracelets helps to decrease pain (3). However, several other studies found these bracelets to be ineffective for managing pain and stiffness linked to arthritis.
Meditation is highly beneficial for people living with chronic pain. According to professionals from the medical community, mindfulness-based stress reduction can help people with arthritis lower pain and depression. By practicing mindfulness, people relax their mind and body, acknowledge and release feelings of pain, let go of tension, and tap into a positive outlook.
According to a 2004 study, mindfulness-based stress reduction helps people with arthritis by boosting their immune system. The practice also helped them to reduce pain, early morning stiffness, and the number of swollen joints (4).
9. Tai chi
Tai chi is a traditional Chinese mind-body practice that traces its roots back thousands of years. This meditative martial art features slow and gentle movements with deep breathing. This ancient practice increases flexibility, muscle strength, balance, and it helps care for your joints. According to research that included seven studies, researchers found tai chi to be highly effective in improving arthritis symptoms. They concluded that twelve-week tai chi helps in reducing pain and stiffness and increasing physical function in patients with osteoarthritis (5).
Yoga is a mind-body practice that includes exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation. It has a 5,000-year history in ancient Indian philosophy. Several studies have shown that yoga can help reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility, lower stress, and promote better sleep.
A study from The University of California studied the impact of a 6-week twice/week Iyengar yoga program on young adults with rheumatoid arthritis. At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that yoga is a safe and feasible treatment as it reduces pain and fatigue and improves mood (6).
11. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive, drug-free method of pain management. A TENS machine delivers small amounts of electrical stimulation to trigger nerve fibers and block pain receptors in the brain. According to a 2014 study from The University of Iowa, when TENS is applied at a strong, non-painful intensity, it is useful in lowering pain linked to arthritis (7).
12. Proteolytic enzymes
Proteolytic enzymes, also known as protease, proteinase, or peptidase, are known for their role in the digestion of dietary protein. Papaya and pineapple are two of the best sources of proteolytic enzymes. Several studies have shown that proteolytic enzymes can reduce inflammation and other symptoms related to inflammatory conditions.
According to a 2004 study, proteolytic enzyme bromelain can reduce symptoms of pain, swelling, and joint stiffness in people with osteoarthritis (8).
Ginger has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help in managing the pain and inflammation of arthritis. According to one study from The University of Miami, when 247 participants with osteoarthritis were given ginger capsules twice a day for six months, it significantly helped reduce pain (9).
Curcumin, the active chemical in turmeric, is highly beneficial in lowering the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Curcumin blocks enzymes and cytokines that lead to inflammation. During a 2012 study from India, 45 people with rheumatoid arthritis were given either curcumin supplements, NSAIDs, or a combination of both. The group that took curcumin supplements showed the best improvements in symptoms (10).
15. Essential oils
Essential oils have been used to ease joint stiffness and pain for thousands of years. These oils are extracted from leaves, stems, flowers, fruits, and stems of various plants. They are rich in several nutrients that can ease arthritis pain. They possess anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant properties that help alleviate pain and inflammation. Some of the best essential oils to ease symptoms of arthritis are:
16. Foods to eat
Though there is no magic food to cure arthritis, following a healthy diet and adding specific foods to your diet can fight inflammation and joint pain.
- Food rich in antioxidants: These include green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, berries, melons, papaya, avocado, and pineapple.
- High-fiber food: The best high fiber foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, soaked legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Foods containing omega-3 fats: Omega 3 fatty acids help lower inflammation. The foods rich in omega 3 are wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Foods rich in sulfur: Sulfur contains methylsulfonylmethane that helps reduce inflammation and rebuilds tissue. These foods include onions, garlic, asparagus, and cabbage.
- Bone broth: Bone broth contains proline and glycine, which help to rebuild connective tissue. It also includes sulfates and glucosamine, which help to lower inflammation and joint pain.
17. Foods to avoid
Avoid foods that may lead to inflammation as part of your arthritis diet. These include:
- Fried and processed foods
- Hydrogenated oils
- Sugars and refined carbs
- Dairy products
Arthritis is a group of conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation. The most common symptoms of arthritis are joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. The conventional treatment of arthritis is anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. You can also lower the symptoms of arthritis by making healthy lifestyle choices and opting for natural remedies. These include losing weight, exercising, meditation, hot and cold treatments, chiropractic care, massage, essential oils, and a healthy diet.