Arthritis affects approximately 50 million people in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It is the second most frequently reported chronic condition in the United States and costs the U.S. economy $128 billion annually. Gain insight on natural ways to help ease the pain of one of the nation’s leading and most costly health ailments.
Let The Numbers Speak
According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis strikes 1 in every 5 American adults and is the nation’s leading cause of disability. Within 20 years the numbers of those projected by this debilitating disease are projected to soar as exponential numbers of Americas turn 65 each day. In fact, by 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans will have arthritis—unless the trend is reversed, reports the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
Easing Joint Pain and Inflammation
Arthritis is classified as a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders with many causes, not yet fully understood—and of which there are currently no cures. In layman’s terms, when joint cartilage wears away, bone rubs against bone, which causes osteoarthritis, a very painful condition for the sufferer. And while arthritis includes more than 100 different diseases, or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues—which affects physical movement and every day accessibility and comfort— there are ways to help ease pain, and naturally.
Naturopathic Physician and A Place for Mom nutrition expert, Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born comments: “Diet and nutrition have the ability to affect gene expression and have a direct effect on one’s health and overall well-being. To help ease arthritis suffering, adding-in anti-inflammatory foods into one’s diet is one of the safest and most effective routes to accomplish this effect.”
In honor of National Bone and Joint Health Week, Dr. Jones-Born provides 13 tips on how to help ease arthritis pain using natural remedies. But remember, that it’s always important to consult your health care provider to determine the right exercise plan and diet for specific health conditions:
1. Weight Loss
This is the obvious natural remedy, but it can often be difficult to accomplish as any simple movement can be painful and may lead sufferers to want to limit any movement at all. But if you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help take pressure off your joints and help ease symptoms. Not moving enough basically worsens the symptoms of arthritis, leading to increased swelling and pain.
It’s important to keep in mind that range of motion—anything from dancing, swimming, walking or gardening—can help alleviate stiffness and improve flexibility. And strengthening muscles through exercises such as lifting weights, can help support and protect joints. Endurance exercises are also beneficial as they can help maintain the arteries and heart, which can improve general health and may even decrease the swelling of some joints.
2. Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic care focuses on physical adjustment and alignment, so that joints can benefit from adjustments aimed at reducing pain and stiffness. The incorporation of massage in chiropractic care can play a role in reducing stiffness, helping the arthritic patient move more freely. And if you or a loved one suffers from acute lower back pain, chiropractic manipulation can break up the muscle spasm and scar tissue, helping to ease the pain. Professional chiropractic treatments, in conjunction with hot and cold presses, are a natural way to help treat muscle spasms. Many additional approaches of chiropractic care address the needs of arthritic patients, so again, check with your care provider to cater the care specific to your loved one’s needs.
Fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation caused by arthritis. According to Dr. Jones-Born, there is strong evidence that the omega-3s EPA and DHA can help improve endothelial function. These newly discovered substances, aptly called resolvins and protectins, may help provide arthritis relief without the side effects of conventional arthritis drugs. Omega-3 fatty acids have also shown to help provide some relief from rheumatoid arthritis. Read more about how fish can be healthy for the senior diet.
4. Acupuncture Treatment
Acupuncture can be effective at treating chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis. Acupuncture can help relieve pain and disability for some arthritic conditions, but not all. Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly treated through acupuncture. The idea is that acupuncture points to treat Arthritis are located all over the body, not just directly over the affected area, so during the acupuncture treatment, tiny needles could be placed along your loved one’s legs, arms, shoulders or wherever the practitioner determines is best to treat the condition.
The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary, but acupuncture is a common natural method for relieving discomfort, preventing swelling and easing arthritic inflammation.
5. Green Tea
Green tea helps to modify the epigenome to suppress inflammation, according to Dr. Jones-Born. So for people who suffer from arthritis, green tea may be able to produce chemical changes to the DNA and histone proteins of an organism, which can be passed down to offspring and help them from suffering from arthritis.
6. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy not only helps people recover from injuries and avoid surgery, it also helps alleviate pain from chronic conditions like arthritis. Physical therapy techniques can help your loved ones strengthen muscles and gain flexibility to help them with mobility and every day life. Once again, it’s important to contact a professional physical therapist for techniques and exercises that will work best for specific cases of arthritis.
Regular exercise is a great way to alleviate arthritis. In fact, exercise is considered key to arthritis management, as mentioned above in “Weight Loss.” Exercise promotes the maintenance of healthy, strong muscles, flexibility, endurance and joint mobility. Since rest helps to lessen active joint inflammation, fatigue, and pain, it’s important to strike a balance between resting and exercise.
Something to think about: Resting more during active phases of arthritis and exercising more during the times when symptoms decrease is a good way to manage the condition. During times when symptoms ‘flare-up,’ patients can gently exercise their joints. Consult your loved one’s health care provider to help you determine the best exercise routine for your loved one’s condition.
8. Vitamin C and Flavonoids
Dr. Jones-Born comments that Vitamin C and Flavonoids help to “prevent cells from oxidative damage and excessive inflammation.” By keeping a diet that incorporates the recommended daily allowance for both Vitamin C and Flavonoids, any powerful antioxidant fruit or vegetable—such as blueberries or grapes—can help ease arthritic pain and swelling.
Other sources rich in Vitamin C and Flavonoids include: apples, apricots, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans and tomatoes.
Glucosamine is an important constituent of the cartilage between joint bones that is a jelly-like substance, so it’s a natural supplement for arthritis sufferers. Basically, when the cartilage between bones wears away for any reason, the bones start rubbing against each other resulting in damage and pain. Glucosamine is available over-the-counter at many drug stores and provides natural anti-inflammatory relief. As with any supplement, moderation and physician consent are recommended.
Chondroitin is often used in conjunction with glucosamine to help slow or prevent the degeneration of joint cartilage, which is the underlying cause of osteoarthritis pain. Chondroitin sulfate dietary supplements are also believed to help alleviate joint pain associated with the condition. Chondroitin is available without a prescription, but it’s important, once, again, to check with your loved one’s health practitioner.
According to Dr. Jones-Born, Proanthocyanidins have major antioxidant activity which can help ease symptoms of arthritis. These disease-fighting compounds can be found in purple and red foods, such as blueberries, blackberries, red and purple grapes (those with seeds have extra proanthocyanidins), cranberries, plums black currants, bilberries, cinnamon, red and kidney beans—and even red wine! Hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans and almonds are also proanthocyanidin-rich foods.
12. Capsaicin (Chili Pepper) Cream
Capsaicin cream can also relieve osteoarthritis pain, and it’s available without a prescription. The capsaicin comes from chili peppers, which gives peppers their characteristic pungence, producing mild to intense spice; which also produces heat. Capsaicin is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes. Capsaicin used as a topical cream helps alleviate arthritis pain as it helps keep down the inflammation of the disease and helps soothe the pain.
Nobody knows exactly how it works, although one theory is that the cream relieves pain by depleting the nerve ending of pain-impulse-transmitting chemicals known as “substance P” and calcitonin gene-related protein.
According to Dr. Jones-Born, Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called, ginerols, which can help ease arthritis. So think about adding a little ginger to your favorite dishes!