Arthritis is the most common joint disease and the leading cause of disability in the United States. It’s also a disease that gets progressively worse with age, so you need treatments that are safe for the long haul and effective enough to help you stay active.
While temporary pain relief can be obtained through medical treatments like joint injections, I work with my patients in Beverly Hills, California, to find alternative options that can be used throughout their lifetime to reduce arthritis pain effectively. I’ve compiled this list of eight alternatives to give you an idea about the kinds of therapies that are available for easing arthritis pain.
Acupuncture relieves arthritis-related pain so well that some experts suggest it should be classified as conventional medicine rather than an alternative therapy. It’s a good option because it relieves arthritis pain, fights inflammation, and improves joint function and motion.
Traditional acupuncture is based on biological energy, Qi, that circulates throughout your body. Disease develops in areas where Qi is blocked. Precise placement of acupuncture needles restores the flow of energy, which then helps your body heal.
Using today’s advanced imaging techniques, researchers have identified distinct biochemical changes caused by acupuncture that contribute to pain relief, such as:
Electrical signals stimulated by acupuncture needles result in the release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals that make you feel better physically and emotionally.
Studies suggest that acupuncture may alleviate pain caused by knee osteoarthritis by affecting pathways in the brain that modulate pain.
2. Platelet-rich plasma
Platelets found in your blood contain specialized proteins called growth factors, which trigger the synthesis of new cells and tissues. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) consists of blood plasma that contains a concentrated amount of platelets. PRP is produced in my office using a small amount of my patient’s blood.
When I inject PRP into an arthritic joint, the growth factors reduce inflammation and pain and promote healing in damaged joint tissue. In addition to treating arthritis, PRP injections are used to heal tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries.
3. Massage therapy
I often find that some of the simplest solutions have a tremendous impact on my patients who have arthritis – massage therapy falls into that category. Therapeutic massage improves multiple issues caused by arthritis. It provides pain relief, relaxes tense muscles, reduces inflammation, boosts blood flow, improves range of motion, and restores muscle tone.
Therapeutic massage helps lower levels of stress hormones and increases production of serotonin, which improves mood. Studies also suggest it may diminish production of a neurotransmitter associated with pain.
4. Tai chi
Tai chi is a form of martial arts that combines gentle physical exercise and stretching with mindfulness. I recommend tai chi because it promotes exercise, which is a key therapy for alleviating arthritis pain, without putting too much stress on your muscles and joints.
Studies show that tai chi is especially beneficial for knee osteoarthritis, where it reduces pain, improves knee function, and promotes a better quality of life for patients. In fact, tai chi produces the same level of pain relief as a standard course of physical therapy.
Yoga is another option I recommend to help you stay active. Like tai chi, it’s low impact and improves your strength while focusing your mind. Yoga is more physically challenging than tai chi, so it’s best to work with a yoga instructor who tailors a program to your needs.
Yoga is proven to reduce joint pain and improve joint flexibility in people with arthritis. My patients also find that yoga improves their mental health by relieving stress and anxiety.
6. Progressive muscle relaxation therapy
I always consider treatments aimed directly at the arthritic joint, but then I also talk with my patients about the impact that stiff, painful joints exert on muscles throughout their body. It’s natural to adjust your movement to accommodate a painful joint, which means that other muscles are placed under more stress than normal.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) therapy improves your overall pain by helping you relax the muscles that are sore and tense. PMR is self-directed, so you can do it at home. I can teach you how to breathe as you focus on purposefully tensing then relaxing each group of muscles, or you can listen to an audio tape that guides you through the process.
Stress is a double-edged sword – the pain of arthritis causes stress, then stress alone can trigger arthritis symptoms. Meditation eliminates stress and fights arthritic pain as it relaxes your mind and body, improves mood, and relieves depression that’s often caused by ongoing pain. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to lower biomarkers associated with inflammation.
8. Herbal supplements
Some herbs can alleviate arthritis symptoms. For example, studies show that curcumin and pycnogenol reduce pain and inflammation from arthritis, to name just two possible herbal options.
I always ask my patients to talk with me before taking supplements. I evaluate all the medications and supplements you already take to be sure that the active ingredient in an herbal supplement won’t interact with your medications and cause side effects.