It’s important to keep up with ongoing medical treatments, but there are also many natural remedies for muscle pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Some arthritis natural remedies are easy to do at home, while others require specific equipment or the care of a trained individual.
This article will outline the alternative treatments available for RA and how they may benefit you.
Herbs and Supplements for RA
Many different supplements and herbs have shown promise in addressing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the most common options are listed below.
Thunder God Vine
Thunder god vine—or Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F—is a Chinese herb shown in some studies to have immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, it has the potential to inhibit some rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Worth noting, however, is that the use of this herb has also been associated with serious side effects like aplastic anemia as well as respiratory tract infections, nausea, diarrhea, and rashes.
As a result, this substance is generally not recommended to treat RA.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric. This potent substance has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
When used with spice ginger, this mixture was found to reduce the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers also discovered that the spice blend may help mitigate some of the soreness, swelling, and inflammation located around RA-afflicted joints.
Herbal and Green Teas
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a chemical found in green tea and some other tea varieties, can have several protective effects on people with rheumatoid arthritis.
First, EGCG has been found to suppress the body’s production of several harmful substances that
can contribute to bone and cartilage destruction. Drinking teas with this chemical may also help inhibit disease activity and prevent recurrent rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.
Fish Oil Supplements
Initial research studies have found some benefits to using fish oil supplements for rheumatoid arthritis. While the findings are still being investigated, this substance has been shown to reduce joint tenderness, alleviate morning stiffness, and potentially lead to decreased use of NSAID medication.
Of note, however, is that fish oil can cause reduced blood clotting and is not appropriate for all individuals. Unregulated supplements may also contain high amounts of mercury and should be taken with caution.
Lower levels of vitamin D in the body have been correlated with more severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, initial research has shown that taking vitamin D supplements may actually help to regulate your body’s immune response. As a result, this substance may aid in preventing RA flare-ups and assist in keeping the disease in remission.
Alternative Therapies for RA That Require a Specialist
While unable to be performed at home, certain alternative therapies have also been found to benefit individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. These specialized treatments may be useful complements to more traditional interventions when addressing the symptoms of this condition.
Acupuncture is a traditional medicine practice that involves inserting fine-tipped needles into specific areas of the body to relieve pain. Unfortunately, the evidence supporting this treatment in people with rheumatoid arthritis is still lacking.
Some poor-quality studies have shown some improvement in RA symptoms after receiving acupuncture; however, these benefits have yet to be demonstrated in higher-quality studies.
Initial research studies have shown that massage therapy may be beneficial for the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. For example, in one research paper, weekly moderate pressure massage to the arms and hands was found to reduce pain, improve joint range of motion, and increase overall grip strength after one month. Interestingly, the same study found moderate pressure strokes were more advantageous than a massage with light pressure.
Homeopathy is an alternative medicine that believes in “like cures like.” In essence, it strives to treat the symptoms of a disease by giving a diluted amount of a substance that would produce the same symptom in a healthy individual.
While one decades-old study found that homeopathy reduced pain and stiffness in people with RA, these effects have never been able to be reproduced in subsequent research articles. Because of this, the use of homeopathy is not currently recommended.
Cryotherapy involves subjecting the body to brief periods of extremely cold temperatures (typically under -100 degrees Fahrenheit) in an effort to produce a thermal response and alleviate inflammation. Use of this treatment in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis was shown to decrease systemic levels of C-Reactive Protein, an inflammatory marker in the body.
That said, cryotherapy did not produce a more significant reduction in pain or morning stiffness when compared with treatment using physical therapy.
Float therapy involves lying on your back and floating in water that is heated to skin temperature (approximately 95 degrees Fahrenheit) and highly salinized to increase your buoyancy. Some studies have shown that this type of treatment can lead to lower overall stress levels and subsequent reductions in pain.
Because of this, float therapy may be helpful for people with RA; however, there is currently minimal evidence to confirm this.
Physical therapy is considered to be an effective treatment for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. During rehab, your therapist can help you strengthen the muscles around non-inflamed joints to add stability to these regions.
They can also prescribe stretching exercises that help maximize your overall mobility. Finally, your PT can help create an aquatic or land-based aerobic exercise program for you which has been shown to reduce joint pain and improve your overall function.
Infrared Heat Therapy/Phototherapy
Phototherapy, or infrared heat therapy, is a medical treatment that transforms light waves into heat in an effort to cause the death (necrosis) of inflammatory cells.
Because of this mechanism of action, it has been suggested as a possible treatment for RA. Initial studies have shown small improvements in joint mobility and stiffness after phototherapy, but minimal evidence exists overall to confirm the benefit of this treatment in rheumatoid arthritis.
Techniques and Lifestyle Changes for RA
Modifying different elements of your daily life and incorporating several easy-to-perform techniques may reduce many of the debilitating symptoms of RA. Some of the most useful changes and strategies are listed below.
Exercise and Stretching
Committing to a regular exercise program can help people with rheumatoid arthritis control their flare-ups and manage their symptoms. Fitness regimens containing stretching, strengthening, and aerobic conditioning components have been shown to lead to a number of benefits.
- Reduced likelihood of joint contractures
- Improved daily function
- Enhanced joint stability
- Diminished overall pain levels
Working with a physical therapist who specializes in treating RA can be helpful to customize a program for your specific abilities.
Meditation and Deep Breathing
Meditation, the practice of acknowledging your thoughts, environment, and feelings as you strive to stay present in the moment, can be a helpful stress-relieving activity to incorporate into your daily life.
This technique, along with focused deep breathing routines, may help lower your immune response and ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. As with most things, however, consistency is the key to maximizing the benefits of these techniques.
Tai Chi is a gentle, rhythmic form of martial arts that focuses on slowly moving the body between different poses or stretches.
Regular practice of this type of exercise was shown in one review to improve vitality, mood, and disability in people with RA. However, tai chi was not shown to significantly affect joint swelling, pain, or overall function. Further evidence is needed to prove or disprove the advantages of practicing this activity with rheumatoid arthritis.
Like tai chi, yoga is a form of exercise that helps build strength and improve flexibility by incorporating multiple different movements or poses into a routine.
The initial research on this exercise form has shown improved grip strength and quality of life along with decreased joint tenderness and swelling in people with RA. As with most alternative treatments, however, more high-quality trials are still needed to confirm these benefits.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that focuses on systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups in your body.
Practicing PMR can help reduce stress and muscular strain, alleviate anxiety, and control rheumatoid arthritis-caused chronic pain. One simple version of this technique can be found here.
Heat and Cold
Heating pads or hot packs may be useful in relieving joint stiffness and improving your overall mobility. This is because heat can help make muscles more flexible and the tissue surrounding a joint more pliable. It is important, however, to avoid the use of heat on an acutely inflamed joint.
Ice baths and cold packs, on the other hand, can be helpful in alleviating swelling or pain in an inflamed region. This is because cold causes the blood vessels in the area to narrow or constrict. It also can inhibit muscle firing and alleviate painful spasms. Care should be taken to avoid frostbite or skin burns in areas of reduced sensation.
Visualization, also known as guided imagery, is the practice of thinking about a relaxing scene (like a serene beach or a quiet field) in an effort to alleviate your pain.
This form of meditation encourages you to focus on all five of your senses when visualizing a location and has been shown to help regulate your sympathetic nervous system (which ramps up during stress or pain). Initial research has shown that guided imagery is helpful in reducing pain and stress levels in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Modifying your diet may help reduce the symptoms of RA.
That’s because foods that are fried, processed, or high in sugar can contribute to elevated inflammation levels in the body. Avoiding these items and instead focusing on foods that have high amounts of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids (like fish, dark leafy vegetables, and nuts) could help to alleviate your overall pain levels.
While remaining active and regularly exercising is an effective management strategy for rheumatoid arthritis, rest is also crucially important. This is especially true during an RA flare-up when your joints are swollen or tender. Maintaining a balanced schedule of rest and activity can help fight inflammation, protect your joints, and reduce fatigue.
Products and Home Remedies for RA
In addition to the medications and braces that may be prescribed by a healthcare provider, several other over-the-counter products and remedies may be useful.
Read more about the most common ones in the section below.
Topical Creams, Gels, and Patches
Recently, several topical over-the-counter and prescription products have emerged as options for treating RA pain. These anti-inflammatory substances can come in cream, gel, or patch form and generally have fewer side effects because they are administered locally (rather than systemically).
These medications are sold under several brand names including Flector, Voltaren, and Pennsaid. It is also worth noting that these products are generally more effective for superficial joints like the hands, elbows, or ankles.
Other topical options for people who cannot use NSAIDs in any form (like those with severe kidney disease or bleeding disorders) can use capsaicin, lidocaine, or menthol-based creams, like IcyHot, BenGay, or Aspercreme.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is a relaxing treatment that utilizes scented oils or lotions made from herbs, flowers, fruits, or plants. While this technique will not impact the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, it may have some pain-relieving effects when used in complement with more traditional treatments.
Specifically, essential oils containing ginger, peppermint, frankincense, or orange may be helpful in alleviating your soreness and inflammation. Be sure to speak to your doctor prior to using any type of essential oil to ensure it is appropriate for your specific condition.
A weak magnetic field is thought to cause localized widening and narrowing of the blood vessels and is theorized as a way to control inflammatory arthritis.
In fact, one research article found significant improvement in RA patients with knee pain who were treated with magnet therapy. Unfortunately, however, these benefits have not been confirmed with high-quality studies and the use of magnets is not recommended at this point.
Hydrotherapy refers to performing specific stretching, strengthening, and cardiovascular exercises in a warm water pool. Several studies have found this practice to be beneficial for people with RA. Specifically, individuals who participated in hydrotherapy had decreased pain, improved mood, and increased grip strength compared with people who did nothing. Most of these benefits were found to be somewhat temporary, however, and the long-term effects of this treatment are still being studied.
There are a plethora of alternative treatments available which may be useful for rheumatoid arthritis. This can include herbs and supplements, specialized services, lifestyle modifications, and over-the-counter products. Many of these options have shown promise in decreasing joint pain and inflammation, alleviating stress and fatigue, and reducing the frequency and intensity of RA flare-ups.
Typically, these natural remedies are meant to be complementary and should be used alongside more traditional treatments.