Rheumatoid Arthritis: Alternative RA Therapies

Some herbal remedies and supplements might help bring down swelling and ease pain.

Herbs and Supplements

Are your joints sore and stiff? Some herbal remedies and supplements might help bring down swelling and ease pain. Here are a few to ask your doctor about:

  • Boswellia (Indian frankincense)
  • Cat's claw
  • Thunder god vine
  • Turmeric/curcumin

Though these herbs are natural, they can cause side effects or interfere with other drugs you take. Make sure your doctor knows about all the remedies you use.

Acupuncture may lower levels of substances like tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which cause joint swelling.

Acupuncture

Practitioners of this ancient Chinese method stick tiny needles into your skin to reroute your body's flow of energy. Acupuncture may lower levels of substances like tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which cause joint swelling. It also triggers the release of natural painkillers. Studies haven't yet proven that acupuncture helps with RA pain and swelling. More research is needed.

If you want to exercise but your sore joints stop you, tai chi might be the answer.

Tai Chi

If you want to exercise but your sore joints stop you, tai chi might be the answer. Its gentle, flowing movements make it an ideal way to get active without pounding your joints. Research shows it may help you get around more easily, improve your range of motion, and boost your mood.

Go for foods that fight inflammation, like those in the Mediterranean diet.

Healthy Eating

Go for foods that fight inflammation, like those in the Mediterranean diet. Try cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, fruits, veggies, whole grains, and olive oil. Studies show they can cut joint swelling and help people with RA move more easily.

Pain and stress go hand in hand, which may be why some methods that help you unwind show promise for RA.

Relaxation Techniques

Pain and stress go hand in hand, which may be why some methods that help you unwind show promise for RA. Try progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense and relax the muscles from your feet to your head. Or consider guided imagery, where you picture a calming image that steers your mind away from pain. You can also try deep breathing or any other technique that works for you.

It combines a variety of poses with deep breathing and meditation.

Yoga

It combines a variety of poses with deep breathing and meditation. Though studies on yoga for RA haven't proven it works, evidence so far shows the practice may improve hand strength and ease pain. Yoga can also increase your flexibility, lower stress, strengthen muscles, and improve your balance.

This could be just the thing to bring relief when your joints feel stiff and achy.

Massage

This could be just the thing to bring relief when your joints feel stiff and achy. Research finds an arm and hand massage can ease pain and improve your grip strength. A good rub-down can also knock out anxiety and help you sleep better. Before your first session, see your rheumatologist to make sure it's safe for you. And let the massage therapist know you have RA.

EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, can be help you fight inflammation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, can be help you fight inflammation. Fish oil supplements show promise for relieving joint tenderness and stiffness in RA. A daily dose could also help you cut back on NSAIDs and other pain relievers and avoid their side effects. As an added bonus, fish oil protects your heart, too.

Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve your arthritis pain and help you move around better.

Exercise

Don't let sore joints sideline you to the couch. Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve your arthritis pain and help you move around better. Try walking and swimming, or train with light weights and resistance bands to help strengthen muscles that support your joints. Stretches are another good way to improve your flexibility. Check with your doctor before you start.

One of the easiest ways to soothe sore joints is heat or cold therapy.

Heat and Cold

One of the easiest ways to soothe sore joints is heat or cold therapy. Heat improves blood flow and eases stiffness. Take a warm bath or shower, put a heating pad on painful joints, or swim in a heated pool. Cold brings down swelling and dulls pain. Hold an ice pack or store-bought cold pack to your joints for 15 minutes at a time. Use the method that feels best, or alternate heat and cold.

Feel free to soak in a warm bath or pool.

Hydrotherapy

Feel free to soak in a warm bath or pool. The warm water loosens up your tight joints, improves blood flow, and eases pain. To be safe, keep the temperature between 92 and 100 F. How long should you stay in? A 20-minute session seems to help the most.

But evidence suggests it may relieve pain and fatigue and boost your mood.

Aromatherapy

You'll breathe in fragrant plant oils, or a massage therapist can rub them onto your skin. It's not clear whether aromatherapy works for RA because so little research has been done. But evidence suggests it may relieve pain and fatigue and boost your mood.

You can learn how to do biofeedback at a physical therapy clinic, medical center, or at home using your computer.

Biofeedback

It's a technique that teaches you how to control actions in your body that aren't normally under your power, like your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. You can learn how to do biofeedback at a physical therapy clinic, medical center, or at home using your computer. Studies show it might reduce pain and help you get around better.

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REFERENCES:

  • Arthritis Foundation: "Indian Frankincense," "Cat's Claw," "Thunder God Vine," "Turmeric," "Can Acupuncture Help Relieve RA?" "Nutrition Guidelines for People with Rheumatoid Arthritis," "Progressive Muscle Relaxation," "Guided Imagery," "Yoga Benefits for Arthritis," "Benefits of Massage," "Fish Oil," "Using Heat and Cold for Pain Relief," "Warm Water Works Wonders on Pain."
  • Current Rheumatology Reports: "Acupuncture in the Treatment of Rheumatic Diseases."
  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Tai chi for treating rheumatoid arthritis."
  • Rheumatology: "Effect of Tai Chi in adults with rheumatoid arthritis," "Yoga for rheumatic diseases: a systematic review," "A systematic review of evidence for the effectiveness of practitioner-based complementary and alternative therapies in the management of rheumatic diseases: rheumatoid arthritis," "A randomized controlled trial of homeopathy in rheumatoid arthritis."
  • Annals of Rheumatic Diseases: "An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis."
  • Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: "Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis."
  • Reviews in Pain: "Relaxation and Mindfulness in Pain: A Review."
  • Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice: "Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy."
  • American College of Rheumatology: "Exercise and Arthritis."
  • Journal of Aging Research. "Benefits of Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis."
  • Arthritis Foundation.:
  • Mayo Clinic: "Rheumatoid arthritis: Lifestyle and home remedies," "Biofeedback: Overview."
  • Musculoskeletal Care: "The effectiveness of hydrotherapy in the management of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review."
  • Pain Management Nursing: "The Effects of Aromatherapy Massage and Reflexology on Pain and Fatigue in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial."
  • Taehan Kanho Hakhohe Chi: "The effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression, and life satisfaction of arthritis patients."
  • PLOS One: "Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis - Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial."
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Homeopathy."
  • Arthritis & Rheumatism: "Psychological Interventions for Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials."
  • UpToDate: "Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)."
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