Arthritis pain decreases the quality of life of millions of Americans. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only older adults who suffer. This disease can strike anyone of any age or income level, making holistic therapies especially beneficial for their accessibility and affordability.
What Is Arthritis? Types and Causes
The term “arthritis” describes a symptom — joint inflammation. It doesn’t, however, identify the underlying cause. Several forms of arthritis exist, with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis being the most common types.
It’s crucial to note that some types of arthritis are not dependent upon age-related wear and tear but result from other imbalances in the body. Can a 4-year-old develop arthritis? Yes, sadly, even children as young as 6 months are not immune. The two most common causes of arthritis pain are Rheumatoid and Osteo.
1. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis stems from an autoimmune disease, which means your body’s immune system malfunctions, attacking healthy joint tissue like a foreign invader. It can occur at any age but is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis in those under 16. Although the condition worsens with time, modern treatments can slow progression and maintain healthy functioning longer.
Osteoarthritis affects roughly 32.5 million American adults, mostly over 50. This form of the disease is the one people think of most frequently, as it primarily affects older adults. It gradually worsens with age, although symptoms may not progress as quickly as the rheumatoid version. However, those who have suffered multiple blows or damage to a particular joint may develop it slightly earlier in the affected area.
3. Other Forms of Arthritis
Physicians include multiple conditions under the arthritis umbrella. Some of the other forms of this disease include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis: affects your spine and sacroiliac joint, which attaches your backbone to your hips. It can cause debilitating pain and joints to fuse over time.
- Gout: occurs from excess uric acid in the bloodstream, which can cause crystals to form in joint tissue.
- Fibromyalgia: A nerve condition causes widespread pain, often along trigger points, which may include the joints.
- Psoriatic arthritis: affects your skin, often around your joints, although the plaques can spread elsewhere. It can damage your joints while causing skin lesions.
- Lupus: is an autoimmune disease that attacks multiple body systems, including your joints.
Traditional Treatments for Arthritis Pain
Your physician may offer you one or a combination of the following to treat your arthritis pain.
NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, meaning they work to lower the inflammation associated with any of arthritis’ many forms. Common OTC ones include:
While your doctor may prescribe stronger versions, you can often replicate the effect with medications from the drugstore. However, you should use caution with NSAIDs, as overuse can harm your stomach, liver or kidneys.
Doctors may also prescribe a stronger cream, or you can use an over-the-counter version. They include:
- Salicylates: The same main ingredient as aspirin
- Counterirritants: These include hot/cold creams, including capsaicin
- Anesthetics: Some creams, like lidocaine, numb pain
You can also find herbal ointments, which may contain hemp, CBD, a hemp derivative or curcumin, which comes from turmeric.
3. Steroids: An oral steroid like Prednisone can be used in severe cases. This is an injection given directly in the affected joint, bypassing your digestive system and mitigating the effects on the rest of your body. Although the needle looks scary the first time, relief can last months.
Your doctor may prescribe a DMARD or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug like methotrexate if you have the rheumatic form of arthritis. Women trying to get pregnant should speak with their doctor, as this drug increases the risk of spontaneous abortion.
One of the newest classes of drugs is biologics, like Humira, Enbrel and Remicade. While these prescriptions can help stubborn cases, they’re expensive and may lower your immune function while using them.
6. Surgical Interventions
Surgical interventions for arthritis include the following:
- Joint repair: Your doctor may remove damaged tissue and smooth edges to reduce pain.
- Joint replacement: In severe cases, your doctor may replace your hip or knee.
- Joint fusion: Often performed on the spine to ease pain by fusing vertebrae.
Holistic Treatment of Arthritis Pain: 9 Methods
Instead of using chemicals or surgery, holistic medicine offers a number of more natural treatments for arthritis pain and some people report they work better than traditional methods. Others use a combination of holistic treatments for arthritis with conventional therapies to increase their effectiveness. Keep experimenting until you find what works for your body.
1. Gentle Movement
You might instinctively think taking it easy will ease your arthritis pain, but the converse is true. Physical activity promotes healthy blood and synovial fluid flow around joints, relieving pain. While you’re probably better off avoiding high-impact activities that create too much pressure on certain areas, you should try gentler alternatives like water workouts, walking and yoga.
Ideally, you want to elevate your heart rate for at least 30 minutes three times a week for the cardiovascular benefits. Finding movement that helps your joints is like a one-two punch. Try some Functional Medicine exercises for a nice change of pace.
2. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of reducing your intake of inflammatory foods and doubling down on those known to cool the burn. Try reducing or eliminating your consumption of the following:
- Saturated and trans fats: Saturated fats come from animal products. Trans fats occur when oils become partially hydrogenated, either from high temperatures or through the manufacturing process. Both increase systemic or bodywide inflammation.
- Refined sugars: Sugars absorb fast, triggering the release of cytokines that spur inflammation and increasing your Type 2 diabetes risk.
- Refined grains: These absorb like sugar, causing similar inflammation. Furthermore, the manufacturers of many refined flours use bleach, which creates a problematic chemical byproduct.
- Dairy: Lactose and casein are problematic for some.
- Nightshade plants: Some people are sensitive to the solanine in plants of this family. It’s more common in people who have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis with rheumatoid arthritis, but these foods can cause flair ups in those who are sensitive.
Tomatoes (all varieties, and tomato products like marinara, ketchup, etc.)
Potatoes (white and red potatoes. However, sweet potatoes are not nightshades.)
All peppers (bell peppers, jalapeno, chili peppers, and hot peppers)
Red spices (curry powder, chili powder, cayenne powder, red pepper)
Ground cherries (different from regular cherries)
What should you eat? Stick with whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins. Seek whole foods that resemble their natural forms.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Herbs
Many people have considerable success using the following anti-inflammatory herbs as supplements for arthritis pain. You can sip them in a tea, make a tincture with alcohol or glycerin, or find them in tablet form at health food stores. Use caution. The FDA doesn’t regulate OTC supplements, and some herbs may interfere with prescription medications. Consult your doctor before trying the following:
- Willow Bark
- Devil’s Claw
4. Fish Oil
There’s no better source of omega-3 fatty acids than fish oil, which is rich in two of the three types your body struggles to manufacture from AHA — DHA and EPA. Moreover, does more than lubricate your joints. It may be particularly useful for those with rheumatoid arthritis as it can mitigate high cortisol levels, which increase inflammation. It also protects your heart and brain.
5. Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM
Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are three of the most well-known supplements for joint pain. They often occur in combination when you buy them at the health food store. Although the results can vary, some people swear by this combo.
A massage nearly always feels fabulous. However, one type might be particularly beneficial for arthritis. Cranio-sacral therapy includes tiny manipulations of the fluid cushions around the spinal cord and brain. The gentle strokes circulate it throughout your body, increasing mobility and flexibility in your joints.
Acupuncture uses tiny needles to manipulate the flow of chi or vital energy through the body if you follow the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) tradition. Western minds believe the manipulation activates nerve fibers, which decrease the inflammation associated with any arthritis form. Sessions generally last about 45 minutes, with one to two weekly treatments necessary for ongoing maintenance. Each treatment costs between $80 and $175 out-of-pocket, although some insurance plans now cover it.
8. Hot and Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapy can be as simple as applying a compress or heating pad to the affected joint. Some people prefer ice for the anti-inflammatory effects, while others find warmth aids their mobility — experiment to see what works for you.
You can also investigate steam rooms, saunas or hot tubs for heat therapy. Many gyms include these amenities. Infrared Sauna is highly beneficial, as is Cryotherapy, which uses freezing or near-freezing temperatures within a special chamber to treat pain.
9. Meditation and MBSR
Chronic pain stems from many causes, including post-traumatic neurological reactions, where your nervous system misinterprets innocent stimuli as threatening. It responds with a full defense, and the resulting inflammation increases joint pain. Research suggests that meditation and similar mindfulness-based stress-reduction techniques can reduce serum cortisol levels, cooling the burn.
Arthritis refers to a painful inflammatory joint condition that results from various causes. Treatment can entail traditional medicine and surgery, holistic interventions or both. The right approach may vary by person and you can experiment with different combinations of traditiona and holistic arthritis treatments until you find the formula that works for you.
Written by Beth Rush: Beth is the nutrition editor at Body+Mind and has 5+ years of experience writing about the bi-directional relationship between endocrine disorders and the foods we eat. You can find her on Twitter @bodymindmag.