Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups
Although research into medications to treat RA is ongoing, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, the good news is that a healthy diet, the right amount of rest, and regular exercise can go a long way toward improving quality of life. Over-the-counter medications and complementary treatments can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, while disease-modifying drugs can ease symptoms or help put RA in remission.
Work with your doctor to find the right combination of remedies for you, and read on to discover ways to relieve your RA.
Rest and Relaxation
Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night. However, keep in mind that many people with RA need more than that. Try taking a two-hour nap during the afternoon if you don't get enough sleep at night. If you're feeling overly stressed, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation exercises can help you relax. Hypnosis, meditation, and massage may also help ease tension.
Regular exercise is a great way to fight fatigue, strengthen muscles, and increase range of motion. Gentle stretching, walking, swimming, and water aerobics are usually good choices, but you can ask your doctor to recommend exercises for your condition.
Avoid high-impact sports and take it easy when joints are tender or severely inflamed. If necessary, work with a physical therapist to learn the proper way to exercise on your own.
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that combines slow, gentle movements with awareness and deep breathing. It exercises the mind, body, and spirit and one study suggests that tai chi may improve function in those with RA. Make sure you take lessons from a knowledgeable instructor and do not perform moves that make your pain worse. Ask your doctor if tai chi is a good choice for you.
Creams, Gels, Lotions
Topical creams, gels, and lotions can be rubbed directly onto the skin near painful joints. As the skin absorbs the ingredients, you may experience temporary relief of minor joint pain. Some topical ointments are available in spray form or as a patch that sticks to the skin. For best results, look for products that contain capsaicin, salicylates, camphor, menthol, or turpentine oil.
Fish Oil Supplements
A few studies show that fish oil supplements may help reduce pain and stiffness due to RA. Check with your doctor before adding fish oil supplements to your diet, as they may interfere with medications. Some people also complain of nausea, belching, and a fishy taste when taking fish oil supplements.
Some plant oils are thought to reduce pain and morning stiffness associated with RA. Check with your doctor before taking plant oils, as some can damage your liver or interfere with medications. Potential side effects include gas, diarrhea, and nausea.
Evening primrose oil contains an essential fatty acid called gammalinolenic acid and may provide some relief. Side effects can include mild gastrointestinal upset and headache. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM), studies regarding the effectiveness of primrose oil are inconclusive.
Heat and Cold
Apply an ice pack to inflamed joints to help ease swelling. Cold can also help to numb pain and relax muscle spasms.
If you’re experiencing tight, aching muscles, a relaxing warm bath or hot shower can soothe them. You can also apply a hot towel, a heating pad, or other hot pack to help relax tense muscles and relieve pain and stiffness.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist for guidance using heat and cold.
Aspirin or NSAIDs
Aspirin or over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can provide temporary relief of pain and inflammation. NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
Your doctor can prescribe a more potent dose, if necessary. Prescription NSAIDs include:
- Anaprox (naproxen sodium)
- Celebrex (celecoxib)
- Clinoril (sulindac)
- Daypro (oxaprozin)
- Disalcid (salsalate)
- Feldene (piroxicam)
- Lodine (etodolac)
- Relafen (nabumetone)
- Toradol (ketorolac tromethamine)
All prescription NSAIDs have a warning that the medications may increase the chance of having a heart attack, stroke, and stomach bleeding. While these medications ease pain and discomfort, they don’t change the course of RA.
The following medications are also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs include:
- hydroxychloroquine: may take three to six months to take effect
- methotrexate: to suppress the immune system
- sulfasalazine: to suppress the immune response
- minocycline: also used for its antibiotic properties
- oral corticosteroids: for fast, short-term symptom relief
Research into drug remedies for RA is ongoing.
There is a variety of assistive devices that can help you remain mobile. Splints, braces, and neck collars can stabilize and rest inflamed joints. Customized shoes or shoe inserts can provide support for unstable joints in the foot and ankle. Canes and crutches can take weight off joints and make it easier for you to walk.
Special household tools can make working with your hands easier. For example, grab bars and handrails in bathrooms and on stairs can help you navigate your home safely.
Surgery may be able to correct deformities and help ease pain in advanced RA patients. The most common surgery for RA is total joint replacement, including shoulders, hips, and knees.
Reconstructive surgery can repair damage to tendons and relieve pressure on nerves. A procedure called synovectomy removes inflamed joint linings, but this is usually a temporary measure.