Arthritis pain affects nearly 175 million people worldwide. Whether it is juvenile arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that strikes during adolescence, or osteoarthritis that is most often diagnosed in those 55 and older, pain may be a daily fact of life. While a comprehensive treatment plan may include some form of analgesic, either prescribed or over-the-counter, there are other holistic treatments that can help minimize arthritis pain. Here are six of our favorites.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a vital part in over 300 processes and systems of the body. Trouble is, people in the U.S. are not getting enough of it. In 2009, the World Health Organization published a report indicating that 75% of adults are not getting the recommended levels of daily magnesium, with one in five adults getting less than half of what they need.
In addition to increasing pain in the joints and muscles, magnesium deficiency also includes some of the following symptoms:
- Twitching muscles
- Headaches and migraines
- Heart palpitations
- Chronic fatigue
Taking magnesium transdermally (literally “across the skin”) is the most efficient way to fix a deficiency. Transdermal magnesium can be applied through a spray and a massage or via a bath of Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate). A hot bath or a gentle massage are also great ways to relax and relieve mood disorders like anxiety which can increase the perception of pain.
2. Anti-inflammatory diets
Many people avoid this holistic treatment because they feel like making the change to an anti-inflammatory diet might be too complicated. Not to worry. There are a few simple changes you can make every day to get started, and a few basic rules to help make it easier.
- Rule #1: Avoid sugar. Sugar contributes to obesity, and people in the U.S. consume overwhelming amounts of it. If you make one change, make it this one. Cut out as much added sugar as you can, including any type of sweetener (and don’t substitute artificial sweeteners, which are just as bad).
- Rule #2: Add fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These whole foods are filling, packed with nutrients, and good for every part of your body. Try to eat what’s in season for best nutrition, or select flash-frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Rule #3: Limit processed foods. If it comes in a box or a bag, choose something else. Processed foods contain added sugar and preservatives that may promote inflammation in the body. The additional unhealthy fats in processed food aren’t doing you any favors either. Cook once for the whole week if your schedule is busy so that you can avoid the trap of the drive-thru.
While not a treatment per se, the research proves over and over what we already know instinctively: smoking is bad for every part of your health. Smokers tend to be less physically active, tend towards obesity, and generally have a poor diet. All of these factors contribute to increased joint pain due to lack of exercise and pressure from extra weight.
If you need help and motivation, there are plenty of programs to keep you focused on quitting. Counseling and support—in person, online, or by phone—has been linked to high rates of cessation success for all types of smokers. If a holistic treatment is one that benefits the entire body, then quitting smoking is about as holistic as it gets!
4. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a holistic treatment that is gaining acceptance as an effective, side-effect-free way to manage stress that can lead to an increased perception of pain. Mindfulness meditation encourages the practitioner to simply sit and observe any sensations that arise, using the breath to relax and take a non-judgmental view.
Often arthritis pain can lead to negative self-talk and pain catastrophizing. In this case, the person in pain might think about how they are limited and how life will always be restricted. Mindfulness meditation helps to calm these thoughts and replace them with acceptance. It doesn’t mean that the pain of arthritis goes away, but the perception of pain as doom-filled may change. Meditation practitioners report a more level mood and a decrease in the impact of pain on daily life.
Acupuncture may be at least 2,000 years old, but in recent history it has become a go-to holistic treatment for arthritis pain. In a 2006 study of over 3,500 people, researchers found that acupuncture offered significant pain relief in a period of three months to those suffering from osteoarthritis. This pain relief was accompanied by an improved quality of life.
Acupuncturists insert hair-like needles into specific energy points in the body. These needles are left in for a period of time (between 15 and 45 minutes). They may be stimulated with movement, heat, or a mild electrical current. The exact mechanism of this practice and why it works is unclear, but Chinese medical doctors stress that the needles stimulate particular energy points in the body. They believe that releasing the energy relieves pain, inflammation, and stress.
However it works, research is proving that adding this to a comprehensive, holistic treatment plan is a good practice.
6. Yoga and exercise for arthritis
Exercise is an age-old holistic treatment that does nothing but good as a treatment for arthritis. Holistic fitness includes exercise for the mind, body, and spirit. This goes deeper than leg lifts or a walk in the park. Connecting with friends as you exercise, getting out into nature for some “forest bathing,” and continuing to participate in activities that you love not only increases physical fitness but also develops mental toughness, emotional stability, and spiritual calm.
Adding mind-body exercise like yoga or t’ai chi to your routine can help, as can long hikes in wooded areas. If you are starting a new exercise program, talk to your doctor first, then grab a friend and get started. Aim to break a sweat every day, even if it is not a strenuous workout. Look for exercises that you enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with it.
Holistic treatments for arthritis take the whole body into consideration and look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to pain management. What holistic treatments have worked for you?
Image by Take Back Your Health Conference via Flickr