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Alternative Treatments for Arthritis
Topic Started: Apr 12 2011, 05:34 AM (570 Views)
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Alternative Treatments for Arthritis
Some complementary and alternative therapies have been found to relieve arthritis pain.
By Sara Calabro
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH Arthritis is on the rise among Americans. According to the National Arthritis Foundation, one in five U.S. adults has arthritis-related joint pain, with two-thirds of those people being under the age of 65. The numbers increase with age: Once over age 65, approximately 50 percent of adults experience joint pain associated with arthritis. By the year 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans are expected to have arthritic joint pain.

These growing numbers, plus the high costs of care for arthritis — in 2003, arthritis and rheumatic conditions cost the U.S. economy an estimated $128 billion — have led many people to look for alternatives to expensive drugs for arthritis.

Alternative Arthritis Therapies

Among possible complementary and alternative medicine remedies for arthritis are the following:

Herbs. Several herbs have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but because many have not been studied extensively or in combination with popular conventional medications, herbs should be taken only under the supervision of a licensed herbalist.
However, some milder herbs that can be found in your own kitchen have also been used as arthritis remedies, and are safe to try. “Turmeric, the main ingredient in curry, and ginger both have anti-inflammatory qualities,” says Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, associate professor at Georgetown University’s complementary and alternative medicine master’s in physiology program.
Dietary supplements. Much attention has been given recently to the use of supplements to help with arthritic joint pain. Two of the most talked about are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. In 2008, American Family Physician published a study that showed benefits from using glucosamine sulfate for joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. The same study also looked at chondroitin sulfate, which was shown to help with osteoarthritis as well. Although glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are often used in combination, this study did not show any evidence to support that the supplements are more powerful in combination.
“With glucosamine and chondroitin, their effects may be less on pain and more on preventing further joint deterioration,” says Dr. Fugh-Berman. “It’s an area we need more research on.”
Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese treatment technique involves placing hair-thin needles throughout the body to restore a smooth flow of energy. According to acupuncture theory, blocked energy causes pain. Acupuncturists insert needles along 14 meridians — essentially, points in the body’s energy transport system — in an attempt to unblock stuck energy. Acupuncture is also thought to stimulate mechanisms in the body that counter joint pain and inflammation.

“Acupuncture can trigger the central nervous system to produce chemicals called endorphins,” explains Lixing Lao, MD, PhD, LAc, director of traditional Chinese medicine research at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. “These endorphins can help with pain relief. Acupuncture also can trigger the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that suppresses inflammation and pain.”
Massage. Some people with arthritis may find relief in massage, a form of soft-tissue manipulation that brings warmth and increased blood flow to painful areas of the body. The National Arthritis Foundation cautions against massaging a joint that is very swollen or painful and recommends seeing a massage therapist who has experience working with arthritis patients.Yoga. Recently, researchers from Johns Hopkins University completed a study that showed that yoga poses and breathing exercises may be helpful to people experiencing arthritis-induced joint pain and swelling.
It's important to be cautious, though, because “yoga requires positions that can make you quite sore,” says Patience White, MD, chief public health officer of the Arthritis Foundation. “You have to be sure you’re following a program that has been shown to be helpful, and not painful, for people with arthritis.” The Arthritis Foundation is currently developing such a yoga program, to be made available in 2010.
While you may need to try a variety of these arthritis remedies before you find something that works for you, your traditional treatment plan could get a boost from one or more alternative arthritis remedies. Just be sure to keep your doctor in the loop before trying anything new.

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