Exercise and Other Natural Remedies for Arthritis
Try a Little, Gain a Lot
Arthritis pain and stiffness can make everyday activities difficult. Even just getting out of your chair might be painful. Sometimes stiffness makes exercise seem impossible, and the huge selection at a health food store can be overwhelming.
Medications could help, but they often come with unpleasant side effects. If you're looking for natural relief to help you manage your arthritis pain, it's important to know what works.
These natural remedies can provide real benefit to managing your arthritis symptoms.
Putting a lot of wear and tear on your joints increases your risk of osteoarthritis. Being overweight, even by just a few pounds, can be a big stress on joints. Every one pound of excess weight you carry puts four pounds of extra stress on your knees, ankles, and hips.
Losing even just a little weight can remove stress from your joints. If you already have arthritis, losing weight may reduce your daily pain. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a diet that is high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in certain fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and other oils, may reduce inflammation. An experiment on guinea pigs showed that omega-3 fat helped reduce the signs of osteoarthritis, though more studies are needed.
Another study found that high doses of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the need for NSAIDs, anti-inflammatory medication.
Omega-3 fatty acids also benefit the heart, help the nervous system, and increase good cholesterol. High doses can potentially cause bleeding, so talk with your doctor before adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet.
Exercise may be the most beneficial treatment for arthritis, but it is difficult to get started. The Mayo Clinic reports that even moderate exercise can help ease your pain. Range-of-motion exercises, a strengthening routine, and gentle aerobic exercise can all help.
Exercise strengthens muscles around your joints, and it helps maintain bone strength. It also helps control your weight, improve your sleep, and improve energy levels.
Work up to moderate exercise for 20-30 minutes, three times a week. A gentle walk, aqua aerobics, a dance class, yoga, or tai chi are all good low-impact exercise options.
Topical capsaicin can reduce arthritis pain. Capsaicin is the spicy component of chili peppers. In one study, 80 percent of arthritis patients receiving a topical capsaicin cream experienced less pain. Rheumatoid arthritis patients received slightly more relief than osteoarthritis patients.
Researchers believe capsaicin removes Substance P from the area near application. Substance P is a neurotransmitter. Removing it blocks pain signals. Capsaicin cream is safe but can leave a burning sensation at the site of application.
Glucosamine is a dietary supplement. It is promoted to keep joints healthy and functioning. It has been used for years, but its effectiveness is not confirmed. The FDA has not approved it for medical use.
Much of the evidence for the effectiveness of glucosamine is conflicting. More studies need to be performed to find if glucosamine really does work. It is not harmful to most, but does pose risks for some. Watch out for possible interactions.
Acupuncture has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It may be a tool for relieving pain for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, recent studies suggest that much of the anecdotal evidence of effective pain relief may be due to the placebo effect.
Inserting needles may trigger an endorphin release, resulting in pain relief. But the effectiveness of acupuncture for pain relief from arthritis may decrease over time.
There still may be a role for acupuncture in arthritis treatment, but there have not been enough studies to show how it may work best.
Transelectrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is the application of electrical impulses across the skin to local nerves. This may control certain types of pain. The use of TENS during physiotherapy for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia is becoming more common. There is some evidence that TENS is effective for pain control, if the dosing and intensity of the stimulation is sufficient. Studies specific to arthritis are more mixed, with some small benefit seen in rheumatoid arthritis.
TENS is safe and may be effective. An experienced TENS therapist can tailor an application for you.
These recommended supplements may also help treat arthritis symptoms:
- Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
- Devil’s claw (harpagophytum)
- Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables
- Borage Oil
- Vitamins E, D, C or A
- Chondroitin Sulfate
- Hyaluronic acid
Talk with your doctor and review the evidence available before choosing to take any nutritional supplements. Some herbs can interact with medications and cause serious complications.
- Supplement and Herb Guide (2013) The Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/supplements-and-herbs/supplement-guide/index.php
- Benefits of Weight Loss (2013) The Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/losing-weight/benefits-of-weight-loss/weight-joint-pain.php
- Smart Eating 101 (2013) The Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/losing-weight/how-to-lose-weight/smart-eating.php
- Knott, L et al. (2011) Regulation of osteoarthritis by omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids in a naturally occurring model of disease. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 19(9):1150-1157. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3176911/
- Lee, YH et al. (July 2012) Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Meta-analysis. Archives of Medical Research. 43(5):356-362. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.arcmedres.com/article/S0188-4409%2812%2900166-X/abstract
- Omega-3s Best Health Benefits (2013) The Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/eating-well/benefits-of-eating-well/omega-3-benefits.php
- Exercise helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness. (February 2013) The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/AR00009
- Deal, CL et al. (1991) Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial. Clin. Ther/ 13(3):383-395. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1954640.
- Dahmer, S and Schiller, R. (2008) Glucosamine. American Family Physician. 78(4):471-476. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2008/0815/p471.html
- Wang, C et al. (September 2008) Acupuncture for pain relief in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Arthritis Care and Research. 59(9): 1249-1256. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.24009/abstract
- Urruela, M and Suarez-Almazor, M. (December 2012) Acupuncture in the Treatment of Rheumatic Diseases. Current Rheumatology Reports. 14(6): 589-597. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11926-012-0295-x
- Brouseau, L et al. (2003) Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis of the hand. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. 2003 Issue 2. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004377/abstract
- DeSantana, J et al. (2008) Effectiveness of Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations for treatment of hyperalgesia and pain. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 10(6): 492-499. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746624/
- Rosenbaum, C et al. (2010) Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory dietary supplements for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Altern.Ther. Health Med. 16(2)32-40. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20232616