3-Step Natural Approach to Soothing Arthritis Pain and Stiffness

Tuesday Oct 13 | BY |
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Senior woman with rhuematoid arthritis holding a freesia flower

Arthritis can cause not only pain and stiffness, but disability.
Are there any natural approaches that work?

Arthritis can start out as just a few aches and pains, but over time, it can sneak up on you, increasing discomfort and causing bone degradation and serious disability.

Popping pills isn’t the best solution, though. The FDA just recently required stronger warnings on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. The new wording warns doctors and patients that these drugs increase the chance for heart attack and stroke.

A number of studies over the past several years that have found that people who regularly use these painkillers may be more at risk for cardiovascular problems. Evidence shows that even after just several weeks of taking them, the risk for heart attack and stroke increases.

When you’re in pain, though, you need a solution. Are there any natural approaches to arthritis that actually work?

A 5-Step Approach to Ease Arthritis on a Daily Basis

Look at the evidence we have available today and you find that from what we know so far, the best natural way to sooth arthritis pain and stay active involves a multi-pronged approach. Typically, this involves the following five steps:

  1. Nutrition: Using diet and healing foods to keep joints lubricated and healthy.
  2. Supplements: Adding in vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements that help naturally reduce symptoms.
  3. Exercise: Working regular movement into your daily life, including types that improve range of motion and strength.
  4. Weight: Consistently working to keep it within a normal range to relieve pressure on the joints.
  5. Alternative therapies: Regularly using treatments like massage, meditation, and acupuncture to better manage symptoms.

We’ll leave the exercise and weight-loss for another post, and focus this time on the other three: nutrition, supplements, and alternative therapies.

1. Nutrition

Whether you have osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re dealing with inflammation. Changing your diet to include anti-inflammatory items can go a long way toward reducing symptoms and slowing down the damage to your joints.

The first step is to avoid those foods that tend to lead to increased inflammation. These include:

  • Sugar: Studies show that processed sugars can trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called “cytokines.” Choose natural sugars in fruits rather than processed sugar in candy, pastries, and desserts.
  • Saturated fats: Saturated fats trigger fat tissue inflammation. Limit full-fat dairy, red meat, butter, cheese, pasta dishes, hydrogenated oils, and other similar items.
  • MSG: This food additive can trigger chronic inflammation. Watch out for it on sauces and processed foods.
  • White bread and pasta: We now know that these refined grains increase levels of inflammation markers in the blood.
  • Processed foods: Most of these contain preservatives and additives that can increase inflammation.

On the other hand, there are a number of foods that actually help to reduce inflammation. Include more of these in your diet:

  • Cherries: These have actually been found in studies to reduce the frequency of gout attacks. They have a natural anti-inflammatory effect. Other similar berries include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
  • Fish: You can substitute anything here that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids. We know these are nature’s natural inflammation tamers, so stock up on fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and sardines, and consider taking a regular fish oil supplement.
  • Healthy oils: Olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oils, and safflower oils all have good fats that can help tame inflammation.
  • Green tea: Packed with antioxidants shown to reduce inflammation and slow the destruction of cartilage.
  • Garlic: Eat more garlic, onions, and leeks to protect cartilage from degradation.
  • Turmeric: This powerful spice is good for many health ailments, but we know that it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory.
  • Bone broth: Studies on soup broth have found that it can help reduce inflammation. Most bone broths have healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine, and glutamine, which all help improve bone and joint health.
  • Nuts: A 2005 study found that those who ate the most nuts and seeds had the lowest levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
  • Apples: These have also been tied to reduced inflammation levels in studies.

2. Supplements

Some of the items mentioned above can also be taken in supplements, including garlic, fish oil, and turmeric. Other supplements that help tame inflammation and ease arthritis symptoms include:

  • Sam-3 (S-adenosylmethionine): A number of clinical trials have found Sam-e to be effective at reducing pain and inflammation in the joints, working just as well as NSAIDs in some cases. Some research also shows that it may help promote cartilage repair.
  • Cat’s claw: Early studies have shown that cat’s claw can help reduce inflammation and may help ease the symptoms of RA.
  • Boswellia serrate (Indian frankincense): A 2003 study found that this extract helped decrease pain and increase flexibility in patients with OA. A later 2011 study found that the herb was a potent anti-inflammatory.
  • Capsaicin: This is an effective pain-relieving herb. Its effects have been shown in a number of studies, but some have focused particularly on arthritis pain. In 2010, for example, researchers found that capsaicin gel was an effective pain reliever for patients with OA.
  • Ginger: This little spice has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen and other pain relievers. In 2001, researchers reported that a highly purified ginger extract reduced symptoms of OA in the knee, and a later 2012 study found that ginger extract was as effective at reducing inflammation as cortisone.
  • Willow bark: This one’s been used for thousands of years to ease pain and inflammation. More recent studies confirm that it contains the chemical “salicin,” which is the precursor to aspirin. When you take white willow bark supplements, though, they have fewer side effects than when you take over-the-counter aspirin.
  • Thunder god vine: Lab studies show this one fights inflammation, and a large study that compared an extract of thunder god vine root with conventional medicine for RA found that symptoms like joint swelling, pain, and inflammation improved more significantly with thunder god vine than with the medicine.

3. Alternative Therapies

Several alternative therapies have proven to be very beneficial for reducing the pain and stiffness of arthritis.

  • Massage: This one can really help you feel better—if it’s done right. Studies have shown that Swedish massage and myofascial techniques were most effective. A 2007 study, for instance, found that after 7 weekly treatments plus one more after three weeks, with each session lasting one to one-and-a-half hours, patients with RA reported an absence of pain, and a reduced reliance on pain medication. Another study found similar results, noting that a 60-minute Swedish massage session once a week helped reduce pain for those with OA of the knee.
  • Acupuncture: Studies have been mixed on this one, but that doesn’t mean it might not work for you. A 2012 study found that acupuncture could relieve the pain of arthritis, and an earlier 2008 review reported that acupuncture is an effective treatment for pain and physical dysfunction associated with OA of the knee.
  • Meditation: We have quite a few studies now on mindfulness meditation and pain relief, and some specifically on arthritis. A 2013 study, for example, found that this type of meditation, which focuses on breathing and mental relaxation, relieved inflammatory symptoms brought on by stress. The researchers concluded that the practice could be beneficial in relieving chronic inflammatory conditions. An earlier 2007 study also found that in RA sufferers, meditation could help relieve the depression that’s often associated with the disease.
  • Tai Chi: A large study published in 2010 found that participants who received eight weeks of lessons in tai chi experienced significant pain relief, less stiffness, and better ability to manage daily living than those who didn’t take the classes. They also experienced better balance. “Our study shows that there are significant benefits of the Tai Chi course for individuals with all types of arthritis, said Leigh Callahan, lead author, “including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.” A second 2010 study also found Tai Chi to benefit patients with RA after 12 weeks, with participants experiencing improved balance and less pain.

How do you deal with arthritis pain and stiffness? Please share your tips with our readers.

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Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

1 COMMENT ON THIS POST

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  1. Chris says:

    I have terrible arthritis in my major joints.. However today I ran a race of 12km which included 30 muddy obstacles & freezing rivers to jump into & swim/wade through! I’m a fitness fanatic who won’t be beaten!

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