Do you wake up in the mornings with stiff fingers? Are creaky knees and achy ankles making your daily routine difficult to manage? These are some of the early signs of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis involves the wearing away of protective cartilage around the joints and typically affects us as we get older. It may occur in younger people too as a result of injury. When the top cartilage layer wears away or breaks down due to age, injury, or overuse, the bones under it rub against each other, leading to swelling, pain, and difficulty in movement.1 2
Medical science has yet to find a cure for this often incapacitating condition. On the brighter side, there are several treatment options to control and manage osteoarthritis. In addition to over-the-counter medication, natural alternatives like herb-based supplements, exercise regimens, and physical therapies are available. These treatments can help slow down the progress of osteoarthritis and improve your quality of life.3 Here are some options to help you take osteoarthritis in your stride.
1. Herbal Remedies To Fight Inflammation: Frankincense, Capsaicin, Turmeric, and Ginger
Indian frankincense is a promising herbal supplement for osteoarthritis. It contains boswellic acids, which are active compounds that fight inflammation and relieve pain. Studies indicate that Indian frankincense may help prevent or slow down the loss of cartilage around the joints when consumed for at least 3 months. In another study, its extract, Loxin 5, was found to reduce pain and improve function within 7 days.4
Turmeric, specifically a compound in it called curcumin, is known for its ability to relieve swelling and pain by blocking inflammatory elements. Turmeric has been found effective when taken long-term to relieve knee pain resulting from osteoarthritis.5
Here are some easy ways to get turmeric into your daily diet:
- Add a pinch of turmeric to scrambled eggs.
- Toss roasted veggies or sauteed greens like kale and cabbage with a bit of turmeric powder.
- Flavor rice or soup with turmeric to impart a warm, interesting flavor to the food.
This tongue-tingling plant chemical from chili peppers has a host of health benefits – and one of it is as an effective pain reliever for osteoarthritis. Capsaicin works by temporarily decreasing the pain transmitter substance P. You can find capsaicin in creams, patches, or gels. Tests show that you should be able to feel its efficacy after about 3 weeks of use.6 The American College of Rheumatology specifically recommends topical application of capsaicin for osteoarthritis in the hand but is against the use of capsaicin for osteoarthritis in the knee.7
Topical capsaicin creams can cause reddening of your eyes and skin or lead to a burning, stinging sensation, so use with caution.8
Natural extracts of avocado and soybean oil help to slow the progressive breakdown of cartilage and promote its repair. ASU supplements work slowly but effectively to reduce joint pain and stiffness. How well your osteoarthritis responds to ASU also depends on the severity of your condition, your body weight, and current level of activity. Some ASU formulations may trigger allergic reactions in certain individuals, so consult your doctor before trying this remedy.9
Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that could help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms. Extracts of ginger taken regularly have been shown to improve knee and hip pain in osteoarthritis.10 While scientists fine-tune their research, explore ways to incorporate fresh ginger into your diet – from brewing a cup of ginger tea to adding grated or finely sliced ginger into sauces, noodles, marinades, and salads.
2. Exercise To Improve Mobility
Keeping your joints mobile and yet striking the right balance between exercise and rest is important if you have osteoarthritis. Exercise regularly, even if it is for a little time, to prevent your joints from becoming stiff. Strengthening exercises and aerobic exercises are your best bet. You must, however, consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.
- Strengthening exercises will protect your joint by strengthening and toning the muscles that support and control the joint. This will also lead to pain reduction. For example, thigh and hip exercises are beneficial for those with osteoarthritis of the knee. Strengthening the thigh muscles will reduce your chances of falling or stumbling. Similarly, if you have osteoarthritis of the hip, you need exercises that strengthen the hip and improve flexibility. Consult a physiotherapist for a regimen tailored to your needs.
- Aerobic exercises are those that make you a little breathless and increase your pulse. Try swimming, brisk walking, or cycling (you could use an exercise bike). Since exercise increases your levels of endorphins or pain-relieving hormones, you will experience less pain. Swimming may be one of the best ways to find relief from osteoarthritis pain. Since water supports your weight, your joints won’t feel the strain. That, in turn, means less pain.11
3. Yoga And Meditation To Raise Quality Of Life
The slow, deliberate movements of yoga can be calibrated to suit your age, fitness levels, and existing health conditions. And it can be ideal to get those achy limbs moving, improve quality of life, and induce a sense of well-being. One large trial from the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center concluded that yoga is well-suited for people with all forms of arthritis who lead sedentary lives and can be a boon for many elderly patients.12 13
These yogasanas (poses) will help you build strength and flexibility and improve balance:
Warrior pose (veerabhadrasana): Strengthens muscles of the arms, legs and lower back; benefits frozen shoulder.
Cat stretch (marjarasana): Strengthens the whole body and improves flexibility in the spine, wrists, and shoulders. Also improves blood circulation. Consult a doctor if you have any neck or shoulder problems before trying the cat pose.
Tree pose (vrikshasana): Strengthens back and leg muscles; improves balance and mental focus. Not advisable for people with high blood pressure or migraine.
Besides yogasanas, experts prescribe pranayama (deep breathing exercises) and meditation to heal the body and also enhance mental wellness.
While yoga can be a valuable adjunct to prescription medication, do play safe and get your doctor’s go-ahead first.14 15
Also, keep these dos and don’ts in mind while practicing yoga:
- If you feel pain, stop immediately.
- Do only small backbends and do not overextend your neck. Keep the head aligned with the length of the spine.
- If you have hip arthritis, be careful with asanas that “open up” the hips.
- When starting out, be gentle with yourself – yoga isn’t about “no pain, no gain”! Increase the intensity or duration of the exercise gradually.
4. Massage Therapy To Ease Stiffness And Pain
When your bones ache, what’s not to like about a gentle, soothing massage? Ayurveda treats massage therapy as an intrinsic component of arthritis treatment. Medicated sesame oils applied externally over the affected parts of the body can help relieve joint stiffness and pain, remove toxins, and nourish the tissues.16 17 Massage therapy can offer relief from pain and stiffness and improve quality of life. Do remember, in cases of severe osteoarthritis, massage may well be contraindicated as it can worsen inflammation.18
5. Thermotherapy To Reduce Pain And Swelling
In thermotherapy, heat or cold is applied to joints to reduce pain and swelling caused by osteoarthritis. The treatment can be done using towels, packs, or wax. The cold treatment may help numb the pain, block nerve impulses to the joint, and constrict blood vessels. Heat, on the other hand, may help by relaxing muscles and improving circulation. A study that involved massaging with ice for 20 minutes, 5 days of the week for 2 weeks, increased the knee’s range of motion, muscle strength in the leg, and general mobility too. Similar studies with both cold and hot packs have shown positive results each time. More extensive studies will help show how thermotherapy can fare as an osteoarthritis treatment.19
6. Diet Guidelines To Manage Osteoarthritis From Inside
Your daily diet plays an important role in managing osteoarthritis. Here are some tips:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in a variety of differently colored vegetables, beans/legumes, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat milk products.
- Avoid processed foods that can increase inflammation. Stay away from sugar and saturated fat-laden goodies. Cut back on sugar-added drinks, vitamin waters, and alcohol.
- When planning your meals, keep your weight in mind. Extra pounds put more stress on joints and are a risk factor for osteoarthritis. Losing weight and exercising correctly will help improve osteoarthritis symptoms.
- Omega-3, an essential fatty acid from food sources, can help in controlling osteoarthritis by blocking inflammatory processes. You can get it from oily fish (sardines, mackerel), flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil. If you plan to take fish oil supplements, check with your doctor first for possible side effects.20
7. Ayurvedic Diet Prescriptions To Tackle Vata Imbalance
According to ayurvedic thought, joint pains are a result of an excess of vata, the air element in our bodies. A diet that addresses this imbalance can help alleviate stiffness and pain.
- Include jaggery in your diet to strengthen muscles and relieve body pain and stiffness.
- Reduce salt intake in your daily diet.
- Avoid buttermilk.
- Incorporate vegetables such as brinjal and bitter gourd that fight pain.
- Pearl millet may also reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- Bananas are beneficial for vata-related diseases.
- Grapes, rich in vitamins, minerals, phosphorus, and calcium, are also recommended for healing arthritis.
- Garlic, with its anti-inflammatory properties, can heal aching joints. Boil one garlic pod with a cup of milk till it reduces to half. Cool and drink.21 22
8. Acupuncture For Arthritis-Related Pain Relief
There’s some proof that acupuncture, the traditional Chinese needle therapy, may help with osteoarthritis symptoms. One survey of 15 trials with around 1500 patients found that acupuncture provided pain relief and improved physical dysfunction in people with osteoarthritis of the knee.23. Acupuncture is thought to help by stimulating the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. Should you give it a shot? Go ahead, say experts, but use it as an addition to and not a replacement for medication and physical therapy. While acupuncture shouldn’t have any side effects, remember that much depends on the skill of the acupuncturist. As a basic precaution, consult a well-known, qualified practitioner.24
Magnet Therapy For Osteoarthritis: Evidence Not Conclusive
A review of various studies that used magnets to treat osteoarthritis show that magnets did not bring about any significant improvement in symptoms. There was some positive effect when higher strength magnets were used, though.25 In another study, individuals with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee were given magnetic bracelets of varying strengths for 12 weeks. There was significant reduction in pain among those who wore bracelets of a higher strength. However, whether the pain relief was experienced due to a placebo effect or an actual benefit remains unknown.26 Clearly, the technique requires further study. If, however you find comfort in wearing a magnetic device, you may do so after consulting your doctor. But do not use magnets in place of conventional treatment methods to avoid a doctor’s visit.
|↑1||Osteoarthritis: In Depth. National Institutes of Health (NIH).|
|↑2||Arthritis: an Overview. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).|
|↑3||Arthritis: an Overview. AAOS.|
|↑4||9 Supplements for arthritis Arthritis Foundation.|
|↑5, ↑6||9 Supplements for arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.|
|↑7||Osteoarthritis: In Depth. National Institutes of Health (NIH).|
|↑8, ↑9||Christiansen, Blaine A., Simrit Bhatti, Ramin Goudarzi, and Shahin Emami. “Management of osteoarthritis with avocado/soybean unsaponifiables.” Cartilage 6, no. 1 (2015): 30-44.|
|↑10||9 Supplements for arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.|
|↑11||Exercise for osteoarthritis. Arthritis Research UK.|
|↑12||Ghasemi, Gholam A., Ainaz Golkar, and Sayyd M. Marandi. “Effects of hata yoga on knee osteoarthritis.” International journal of preventive medicine 4, no. Suppl 1 (2013): S133.|
|↑13||Moonaz, Steffany Haaz, Clifton O. Bingham, Lawrence Wissow, and Susan J. Bartlett. “Yoga in sedentary adults with arthritis: effects of a randomized controlled pragmatic trial.” The Journal of rheumatology (2015): jrheum-141129.|
|↑14||Yoga poses to treat arthritis. The Art Of Living.|
|↑15||Yoga for Arthritis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.|
|↑16||Frawley, David. Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide. Lotus Press, 2000.|
|↑17, ↑21||Chaturvedi, Vaidya Suresh. All you Wanted to know about diet and health through Ayurveda. Sterling Publishers, 2005.|
|↑18||Braun, Mary Beth. Introduction To Massage Therapy. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.|
|↑19||Thermotherapy (heat treatment) for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑20||Prieto-Alhambra, Daniel. Nigel Arden and David J. Hunter. Osteoarthritis: The Facts. OUP Oxford, 2014.|
|↑22||Johari, Harish. Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine. Inner Traditions, 2000.|
|↑23||Selfe, Terry Kit, and Ann Gill Taylor. “Acupuncture and osteoarthritis of the knee: a review of randomized, controlled trials.” Family & community health 31, no. 3 (2008): 247.|
|↑24||Acupuncture for knee arthritis fails one test but may still be worth a try. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑25||O Smith, Toby, Toby Meek, Jane Cross, and Caroline B Hing. “The clinical effectiveness of magnets for people with osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Current Rheumatology Reviews 9, no. 3 (2013): 184-192.|
|↑26||Harlow, Tim, Colin Greaves, Adrian White, Liz Brown, Anna Hart, and Edzard Ernst. “Randomised controlled trial of magnetic bracelets for relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.” BMJ 329, no. 7480 (2004): 1450-1454.|