The aims of any treatment for RA are to:
- Educate people about the disease
- Reduce pain and swelling
- Help people stay active and feel better
- Slow damage to the joints
Treatments may be medical or nonmedical, and they are often used in combination.
Since RA is a progressive disease that gets worse without intervention, treatment tends to be aggressive.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are often prescribed within 3 months of diagnosis, to reduce disease activity and prevent the joints from deforming.
People with RA should work with a specialist to discuss medical treatment, and talk about other remedies that can reduce discomfort and improve mobility and quality of life.
Natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis
Physical therapy can involve stretching, exercise, heat and cold, and balanced rest.
Stretching the muscles surrounding the affected joints may provide relief from symptoms of RA.
A study posted to Health Technology Assessment found that simple stretches and strengthening exercises on the hands can bring relief to patients with RA.
Results suggested that a stretching and strengthening program to relieve symptoms in the hands and wrists may be an effective supplement to conventional care methods.
People with RA should talk to a doctor or physical therapist before beginning any stretching regimen to make sure it will not put the joints under any undue stress.
In addition to stretching, a low-stress workout program may help. Dynamic, low-stress activities, such as swimming or cycling can strengthen the muscles around the affected joints, reduce the impact on joints, and slow the progression of the RA.
Heat and cold
There is conflicting medical evidence on the effect of applying heat or cold to areas affected by RA. However, some people may find temporary relief through heating or cooling the sore areas of their bodies.
In the home, heat packs or ice packs can provide relief to sore wrists and feet. Ultrasound heat and cold sprays can also be used to deliver heat or cold to a deep level of tissue without changing the temperature of the skin too much.
Rest is an important treatment for aching joints, but it must be balanced with exercise, as too much rest can make aching joints worse.
It is important to work closely with a doctor and physical therapist to ensure there is a balance between rest periods and strengthening exercise.
Studies suggest a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables alongside grains and nuts may help to reduce inflammation.
Since inflammation is one of the main symptoms of RA, an anti-inflammatory diet may help to reduce symptoms.
A study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine looked at 600 participants who followed a plant-based diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The researchers found that most participants had a reduction in a specific protein, which is known to be active in causing inflammation.
People who followed this anti-inflammatory vegan diet appeared to have significantly reduced systemic inflammation.
People with RA should consider a healthy anti-inflammatory diet to reduce pain and support their overall wellbeing.
Specific supplements may help promote a healthy lifestyle. Fish oil from cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, cod, and herring contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and block inflammatory receptors in the body. These can help as RA is an inflammatory disease.
A meta-analysis posted to The Nutrition Society compiled research on fish oil and RA. Their findings indicate that people who used fish oil and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for a long time had less tenderness in their joints. The researchers concluded that fish oil may be beneficial as a supplemental therapy for people with RA.
Boswellia, or frankincense, is another powerful anti-inflammatory supplement, which may help relieve symptoms of RA.
Turmeric shows promise as a natural anti-inflammatory. In a study posted to Arthritis and Rheumatology, researchers found that a specific extract of turmeric reduced joint inflammation in people with arthritis.
Increasing turmeric consumption by adding the spice to food could help without causing any side effects. Turmeric supplements should be used with care. People who also use blood-thinning medication such as Warfarin should avoid turmeric.
A recent study published in the journal Nutrition, found that treating patients with a specific probiotic, L. casei 01, improved both disease activity and inflammation in patients with RA.
If further research confirms these results, probiotics could become part of the treatment for RA. Rather than using supplements, people with RA can get all the probiotics they need from foods, such as yogurt, pickles, and cheese.
Some supplements may help with RA, but it is important to discuss these with a doctor before taking any as they may have adverse side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate herbs and supplements. As a result, the doses of supplements can be irregular; some could be high and others low. There are also some reported cases where herbs were contaminated.
Reducing stress on the body and mind is likely to help people with RA. Regular mindful meditation, Tai chi, yoga, and qi gong are all gentle ways to bring balance and relaxation to both the body and mind.
Overview of RA
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease in which the immune system attacks the individual's own body tissues.
Symptoms most commonly appear in the joints, where RA creates inflammation and causes the lining of the joints to thicken. It can affect other parts too, such as the lungs.
Unchecked, this inflammation can damage the cartilage and bones. Early diagnosis and treatment can help.
The joints most commonly affected are the small joints in the hands, and feet although other joints can be affected too, usually both hands and or feet are affected similarly.
Although the exact cause is unknown, rheumatoid arthritis may be hereditary.
Causes and symptoms
The exact cause of RA is unknown, but it appears to involve genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors.
Symptoms often begin in middle age and are more common in older people. They include inflammation, stiffness, pain, and swelling around the affected areas. Fatigue and weight loss can also occur because of the inflammation in the body as a whole.
Symptoms vary from person to person and can come and go over time. If untreated, RA tends to damage the joints where there is inflammation.
When to see a doctor
It is always important to speak with a doctor before beginning any treatment, including natural remedies. If a person wants to use herbs and supplements as part of their treatment, they should discuss this with their doctor. This is particularly important because the FDA do regulate herbs and supplements.
If inflammation or other symptoms become worse, it is important to consult a doctor.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with RA should learn about the options and make appropriate lifestyle changes to support a healthy future and reduce pain as far as possible.
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Article last reviewed by Mon 30 January 2017.
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