Arthritis is a joint disease with swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. Though pain and lack of joint mobility can be minor in the early stages, arthritis is a progressive disorder that worsens with age and can become disabling. Indeed, arthritis is the leading cause of work disability in the United States. (1)
An estimated 58.5 million Americans (24% of adults) have arthritis. (2)
The symptoms vary depending upon the type of arthritis and may include:
- Pain and stiffness in joints, typically in the hands, knees, or hips
- Redness of the joints that can be warm to the touch
- Limited mobility
Types of Arthritis
There are three main types of arthritis: Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common type, affects more than 32.5 million U.S. adults. (3) It breaks down the cartilage between joints with resulting bone damage. But OA also affects the entire joint, damaging tendons and ligaments. (Tendons attach muscle to bone, and ligaments hold two bones together.)
More than 32.5 million U.S. adults have OA, which is expected to increase with the aging population. (4)
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
The most common symptoms of OA include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Limited range of motion
- Aching joints
Causes of Osteoarthritis
- Overuse of joint. This is the most common cause of OA, and for that reason, it is the most common joint disorder in older athletes.
- Age. OA is more prevalent in older people, probably due to the repetitive use and stress placed on certain joints in their younger years. According to recent statistics, around 70% of those over 60 have X-ray evidence of this condition. (5)
- Obesity. Being overweight places extra stress on joints, particularly those of the knees and hips, leading to OA in those joints.
- Gender. Women are more likely to experience OA than men.
Natural Treatment Options for OA
Many people turn to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofin to reduce the inflammation of OA and reduce pain and stiffness. Still, there are also natural options that have proven to be effective. Here are a few of them.
Get Regular Exercise
Did you know that exercise is one of the best natural treatments for OA? It’s true! According to the Arthritis Foundation, “Exercise is considered the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis.” (6)
Research shows that staying physically active is one of the best ways to relieve OA pain and stiffness. Exercise lubricates the joints, improves joint range of motion, and strengthens muscles to support the joints.
The best exercises for OA include walking, bicycling, and swimming. In addition, performing regular stretching exercises can help improve joint flexibility and range of motion.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being of moderate weight is essential for managing the pain and stiffness of OA.
If you are overweight, shedding some pounds will help reduce the pain and improve your range of motion. To lose weight, try to switch to a predominately whole-food diet, eating a significant amount of nonstarchy vegetables and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish and flaxseeds. (Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, relieving arthritis pain.) (7)
You must also significantly reduce or eliminate foods that promote inflammation, such as ultra-processed foods, processed meats, starchy carbohydrates, and sugars.
Apply Hot or Cold Compresses
Both hot and cold therapy can reduce inflammation, thus better relieving OA pain and stiffness.
The next time your arthritis flares up, try applying a hot or cold compress to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day. You may be surprised at how effective it is at managing your arthritis symptoms.
Take Appropriate Supplements
Though not recommended as a sole treatment for OA, glucosamine and chondroitin may help relieve symptoms, especially when taken together. (Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural compounds found in cartilage.)
Various studies indicate that taking glucosamine and chondroitin together for several weeks may improve range of motion and reduce joint pain. (8, 9)
This is a form of inflammatory arthritis and immune disorder. The immune system attacks the lining of the joints (the synovium), causing inflammation and inhibiting its ability to produce synovial fluid vital for joint lubrication. This leads to the joints becoming stiff and inflexible.
Though RA commonly attacks the joints, it can also affect tissues throughout the body, like the eyes, lungs, and heart.
An estimated 1.3 million adults in the U.S. suffer from RA. (10)
Symptoms of RA
Typically with RA, the intensity of symptoms worsen, called “flares,” and times when symptoms get better, called “remission.” This disease also typically affects multiple joints.
- Swelling and tenderness in joints
- Stiff joints
- Pain or aching in joints
- The same symptoms on both sides of the body
- Weight loss
Causes of RA
Like other autoimmune diseases, the exact cause of RA is unknown. However, researchers have identified several risk factors, including:
- Genetics. A family history of RA increases your chances of developing this disease.
- Hormones. As females are three times as likely as males to develop RA, researchers theorize that female hormones play a role in its development. Please keep in mind that females are more likely to develop an autoimmune disease than men.
- Lifestyle. Smoking, obesity, poor health, etc., may increase the risk for RA.
- Environment. Exposure to chemicals and other toxins in food and the environment may be a contributing cause of RA.
Natural Treatment Options for RA
Though there is no cure for RA, you can manage the symptoms with natural remedies.
Massage has been shown to reduce pain in many body areas, including the joints. There have even been studies conducted that specifically address RA. The results?
Research suggests that moderate-pressure massage can relieve the pain and stiffness of RA and that even light-pressure massage can increase the range of motion in affected joints. (11, 12)
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that uses fine needles inserted into the body called meridians, which frees blocked energy resulting in pain reduction.
Though few studies specifically address acupuncture for RA, there is scientific evidence that it may regulate immune function and reduce chronic pain in general. For example, research indicates that acupuncture has an anti-inflammatory effect and may stimulate the activity of pain-relieving chemicals in the body. (13)
Like OA, exercise may reduce the pain and stiffness of RA.
Please speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Your doctor may send you to a physical therapist to create a specialized exercise plan for your RA, which will likely include a combination of aerobics, strength training, and range-of-motion exercises.
Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition of the skin and joints that affects some people with psoriasis. (Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes red, itchy, scaly patches of skin, usually on the knees, elbows, trunk, and scalp.) Research shows that around 30% of those with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis, translating into an estimated 2.25 million Americans. (14, 15)
More than eight million people in the U.S. — 125 million worldwide — have psoriatic arthritis. (16)
Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis
Common symptoms include:
- Scaly red patches of skin
- Painful or achy joints
- Joint stiffness
The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. In addition, like RA, those with psoriatic arthritis typically experience symptom flareups alternating with periods of remission.
Cause of Psoriatic Arthritis
The exact cause is unknown. Risk factors include:
- Family history
- Bacterial/viral infections
Natural Treatment Options for Psoriatic Arthritis
Several natural treatments may help ease your symptoms.
Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) are a miracle treatment for just about everything that ails you. For example, it is a common treatment for muscle cramps, constipation, and indigestion. It may also reduce the pain and inflammation of this type of arthritis.
Research suggests that Epsom salts may relieve painful and itchy psoriatic skin lesions. Soak in a bathtub of warm water and Epsom salts for muscle, joint, and inflammation relief. You may also apply it via compress to the affected area.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, compounds with potent anti-inflammatory properties, which could ease the pain and discomfort of this type of arthritis.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology (2018) showed that those with psoriatic arthritis were able to significantly reduce their use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) when taking 3 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, aka omega-3s) per day for 24 weeks. (17)
To reduce your arthritis symptoms, you can either take fish oil in supplement form or regularly include oily fish like salmon in your diet.
Like other types of arthritis, exercise can significantly improve the pain, stiffness, and range-of-motion issues that often accompany this condition.
Try to exercise regularly, emphasizing low-impact exercises, as they are more gentle to joints. Examples include swimming, walking, tai chi, and yoga. Resistance training should also be a part of your exercise routine, as it strengthens the muscles that support joints.
Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise routine.
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