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Osteoarthritis: Natural and Alternative Treatments

Closeup of hands giving a back massage.
Therapeutic massage is one alternative treatment option.

The treatment for osteoarthritis includes lifestyle changes like weight loss and exercise. Medicines and surgery may also be part of the treatment. There are also many natural and alternative treatments. These treatments may also help relieve pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis.

Heat and cold

Using heat and cold treatments are simple ways to lessen arthritis symptoms:

  • Heat soothes stiff joints and tired muscles. Heat works well before exercise, for example. Heat treatments include:

    • A warm shower or baths, or soak (for example, fill the sink with warm water and move your fingers, hands, and wrists around in the water)

    • A moist heating pad

    • A warm, moist wash cloth

    • An electric blanket or throw

  • Cold treatments help to numb painful areas and decrease swelling. Cold treatments include the following wrapped in a thin towel:

    • An ice pack or bag of ice

    • A gel-filled cold pack

    • A bag of frozen vegetables, like peas or corn

Be careful when using heat or cold. You can injure your skin. Each treatment should only last for 10 to 20 minutes. Your healthcare provider or therapist can give you specific instructions.

 

Meditation and relaxation

Meditation and relaxation can help you deal with arthritis pain. There are many different methods available including deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga. Look for information and programs on the Internet or in your community. Or try this simple deep breathing technique sometimes called belly breathing:

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie on your back. 

  2. Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.

  3. Take a breath in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.

  4. Breathe out through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can. The hand on your stomach should move in as you breathe out, but the hand on your chest should move very little. You should feel the muscles of your stomach tighten. 

  5. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. You should feel your stomach rise and fall. Count slowly each time you breathe out.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a 2000-year-old practice. Practitioners insert thin needles in specific parts of the body. Research shows that it can help to relieve the pain of arthritis. 

For more information or to find a practitioner in your area, contact the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Its website is: http://www.medicalacupuncture.org/.

Massage

Therapeutic massage has many benefits. It may:

  • Help you and your muscles relax

  • Improve blood flow to muscles and joints

  • Help joints stay more flexible.

Look for a certified massage therapist. Many are trained to treat sore muscles and joint pain and stiffness.

Vitamins, supplements, and herbs

People with arthritis, or other long-term conditions that cause pain, often look for alternative ways to lessen pain. Vitamins, supplements, and herbs may or may not help you to feel better. Before you try any vitamin, supplement, or herb, make sure you ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Physical therapy/occupational therapy

  • Evaluation by a physical therapist and or occupational therapist for assessment for limitations in activities of daily living

  • Assistance with developing an appropriate exercise routine for both muscle strengthening and cardiovascular health

Weight management

  • Studies have demonstrated that weight loss in overweight individuals can improve osteoarthritis symptoms

  • Talk with your healthcare provider regarding your optimal weight and techniques for weight management if necessary. 

Psychological treatments

Research shows that many psychological therapies or those that deal with thinking and emotions, help people cope with arthritis pain. Therapies include: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), pain coping skills training, biofeedback, stress management, and hypnosis. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these therapies.

For more information about many of these methods, contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at http://www.nccam.nih.gov.

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Horowitz, Diane, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Last Review Date: 2/14/2016
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