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Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis with Alternative Therapies

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis with Alternative Therapies

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs in the body.

Moist heat, massage, relaxation remedies, natural supplements, herbs and magnets are some of the natural treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. However, you should know that none of these natural treatments are fully grounded in science, despite the fact that many of them help RA. Patients should always ask their doctor before using any usprescribed remedy.


To reduce symptoms of RA, many doctors recommend heat and/or cold treatments. This is because cold compresses reduce joint swelling and inflammation, while heat compresses relax the muscles and stimulate blood flow.


A cool compress or ice pack could be applied to the affected joint during an RA flare-up to help ease pain and inflammation. But you should be careful not to overdo cold treatments. These cold compresses should be applied for 15 minutes at a time with at least a 30-minute break in between treatments.


In the case of heat therapy, you could use a moist heating pad or a warm, damp towel. You can also use the microwave hot packs. But you should be careful not to burn your skin, so don’t heat it too much. You could also use heat therapy by standing in the shower. If you let warm water hit the painful area on your body, it may help ease your pain.


An enjoyable and good way of relaxing stiff muscles is getting into a hot tub; but if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or are pregnant, you should avoid hot tubs or spas.


Yet another helpful alternative therapy for pain control is magnets. Magnet therapy has a variety of forms including bracelets, inserts, disks, pads and necklaces; they can be found at most natural food stores.


Most of the research on magnets is done in people with osteoarthritis, which is the wear and tear type that is associated with aging. Some preliminary studies have shown that in people with osteoarthritis, magnets improve joint pain better than a placebo in people with arthritis of the knee or hip. The exact way in which magnets relieve pain isn’t understood. Additionally, it isn’t clear just how magnets may relieve pain in cases of rheumatoid arthritis.


The use of mind/body therapies for pain has been reviewed by many studies. When added to conventional treatments, these therapies could be helpful. Mind/body therapies could help with stress management, as well as sleep and pain perception.


Deep abdominal breathing:

Your emotional state could be altered by taking deep slow breaths from the abdomen (not the chest); the intensity of stressful moments can be lessened by deep breathing, in addition to decreasing stress hormones and slowing the heart beat.


Progressive muscle relaxation:

This is done by concentrating on different muscle groups, contracting the major muscle groups in the body, and then releasing them. You can start with your head, neck, and arms; after that, you can contract your chest, stomach and back. Last of all, you can contract your pelvis, legs, and feet. You can also use deep breathing along with muscle relaxation. You should breathe in while tensing your muscles, and then breathe out while relaxing them.



Stress and pain can be reduced by visualization. Using visualization during stressful moments can be soothing and refreshing. In this exercise, you should close your eyes, breathe deeply, and imagine you’re in a quiet, peaceful place.



Meditation reduces stress and helps you relax; it can also slow your breathing and heart rate. This exercise also helps with pain perception. People who practice meditation report increased resilience and concentration, and decreased anxiety and depression.


Tai chi:

Researchers are looking into the benefits of tai chi in pain reduction. The movements of tai chi are gentle, graceful and mystical. Tai chi is a safe way to relieve pain in people with arthritis. Joint strength and range of motion is increased by tai chi. Some people believe that this exercise has a spiritual modality. By making you focus in the moment and away from the pain, tai chi allows you to practice mindfulness.



Stainless steel needles are used in acupuncture to stimulate the major pathways called “meridians” in the body. Stimulating various points targeted at specific areas of the body is the goal of acupuncture.  Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that imbalances of energy or “qi” can be healed with acupuncture. The practitioner tries to restore balance to the sick body and boost the immune system. When qi flows unrestricted throughout the body, good health happens. Some doctors believe that by triggering pain-blocking chemicals called endorphins, acupuncture needles decrease pain. These endorphins are known as being the body’s natural opioid. Yet another theory suggests that pain signals are blocked by acupuncture.


Studies have shown improvement in pain, particularly in people with back pain, but only little research has been done on people with rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies done on people with osteoarthritis have also shown a decrease in pain.



With biofeedback, people learn how to control automatic responses including blood pressure and heart rate. Information is sent to a monitor when electric sensors are placed on the body. After that, the person will have to react to stimuli such as sounds, pictures or thoughts.


In this method, you will study your body’s reactions to the stimuli while working with a therapist. The therapist will help you recognize feelings of increased tension and learn ways to calm yourself. However, the evidence on how well biofeedback helps pain from arthritis isn’t sufficient. A few studies have shown some benefit for certain supplements and natural remedies, but these studies are preliminary, meaning that the true impact that these supplements may have on RA isn’t certain.


You should make sure that your doctor knows about all the medicines and supplements that you’re taking, because even natural supplements can interact with medicines. Listed below are some of the supplements for RA that have the best medical research to back them up:



Some studies have shown that symptoms of RA can be reduced with borage seed oil along with anti-inflammatory painkillers. These findings have shown reduced tender and swollen joints of RA after about six weeks. Soft stools, diarrhea, and bloating may be caused by borage seed oil, but other than that it seems to be safe. Substances that are potentially harmful to the liver may be contained in borage seeds and other parts of the plant. These harmful substances aren’t found in borage seed oil.


Fish oil:

Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Several studies have shown that the morning stiffness of RA can be reduced by fish oil supplements. Heart disease has a greater chance of occurring in people with RA. When used appropriately, fish oil seems to be safe. However, the chance of bleeding may be increased with doses greater than 3 grams per day.


Thunder god vine:

A decrease in pain and tender joints is shown by some studies in people with RA. Currently, a larger government-funded study is being done, in which thunder god vine is compared with traditional medicine for RA. Thunder god vine seems to be safe. However, it may cause birth defects, so pregnant women shouldn’t use this supplement.



One of the important aspects of health promotion and barring the complications of a chronic condition is the composition of a person’s diet. Dietary choices may have added significance for a variety of reasons in people with RA:


  • Absorption of nutrients may be changed by drug therapy
  • Eating a well-balanced diet may be more difficult
  • Foods that are perceived as allergens may contribute to inflammation. People, particularly those with rheumatoid arthritis, should make efforts to consume a well-balanced diet, full of nutrient-dense foods and limited in additives and processed foods. However, some special diets have been investigated that may be especially helpful for people with RA.



Symptoms of RA could be relieved for some time if a person fasts for a brief period; this is probably because of the elimination of some foods that are perceived as allergens. However, these effects are short-lived, and once the patient returns to a normal diet, the symptoms may return. Fasting shouldn’t be done without close medical supervision, because it could be dangerous for some people. The effects of fasting may be longer if a normal diet isn’t resumed but sensitive foods are eliminated. It seems that there’s a subset of RA patients who are highly sensitive to certain foods, and eliminating these foods could have beneficial effects in them. However, the concept that RA is caused by allergies to foods or to other substances isn’t supported scientifically.



The efficacy of vegan (no animal products at all) or vegetarian (includes eggs and dairy) diets for people with RA have been examined by several European trials, sometimes following a period of fasting. Some of the benefits that these trials have shown include reduced pain and stiffness, less inflammation, and lower disease activity. However, these diets have a high drop-out rate because they aren’t always well-tolerated.

Prepared By: Dr. Mehyar Al-khashroum
Edited By: Miss Araz Kahvedjian

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