A chronic inflammatory condition, rheumatoid arthritis can cause stiffness, pain, swelling, warmth, and redness in joints, most commonly in the joints of the wrists, hands, and feet. This autoimmune disease that affects your motion, mobility, and even quality of life is the result of your immune system inadvertently attacking cells that line your joints. It may eventually cause affected joints to become damaged, misaligned, and misshapen. But the damage from rheumatoid arthritis is not restricted to joints alone. It could also affect cartilage, bone, and tissues and result in problems in organs such as your heart, lungs, or eyes. Treatment conventionally involves medication and supportive therapy like occupational therapy and physiotherapy to help with mobility. In some cases, surgery might be required to correct joint problems.1 2 Many natural remedies can also help you tackle the symptoms of this condition.
1. Try Heat Therapy
Heat relaxes your muscles and improves pain tolerance and that’s why it is typically recommended by physical therapists for rheumatoid arthritis. You can also use heat to treat yourself at home:
Use a heating pad: Heating pads are available in the market and can help ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis but you can use a homemade pack as well. Moist heat works better than dry heat here. Warm up a damp towel in the microwave to a comfortably warm temperature. This may take around 20 to 60 seconds depending on the thickness of the towel. Wrap this damp heated towel in a dry thin one and apply it to ease stiff painful joints. Make sure the towel isn’t too hot before using it, though.
Have a warm shower or bath: A bathtub with water jets works almost like whirlpool baths used by therapists to deliver warm water massages. And a 15–20 minute soak in a warm water bath can help your weight-bearing muscles relax. A warm shower can help ease stiffness too.
Try a paraffin bath: While having a paraffin bath, you dip your feet or hands in wax that’s been melted in an appliance that sustains a safe temperature. Once the wax becomes hard, the affected area is wrapped in a blanket or plastic sheet to retain heat for around 20 minutes. Afterward, the wax is peeled off. Your physical therapist should be able to recommend a suitable paraffin bath kit that can be used at home.3
2. Take Fish Oil
Fish oil contains beneficial omega 3 fatty acids and can help you tackle rheumatoid arthritis. One study found that people who took fish oil supplements experienced a reduction in the duration of morning stiffness, number of tender joints, and pain. In fact, the study observed that some people who took fish oil supplements were even able to stop using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without any issues.4 The beneficial effects of fish oil might be due to its ability to significantly decrease levels of interleukin-1 beta, a protein present in the body that has a role in eroding bone and cartilage in people with rheumatoid arthritis.5
3. Have Borage Oil Or Evening Primrose Oil Supplements
Borage oil contain gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is an unsaturated fatty acid that has been found to be effective at reducing joint inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis. According to a study, having GLA supplements for 6 months lessened not just the number of tender and swollen joints but also the duration of morning stiffness and pain in those with this condition.6 GLA may be beneficial because it is partly converted into prostaglandin E1 in the body. This is a hormone-like substance with anti-inflammatory properties. Speak to an alternative practitioner about ideal dosage. You can also try evening primrose oil or black currant seed oil for the same benefits.7
4. Apply Capsaicin Cream
Capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers, can ease pain due to rheumatoid arthritis. This compound is believed to deplete stores of substance P, which is a neuropeptide that helps in the transmission of pain signals to the brain and has been implicated in the pain and inflammation related to arthritis. One study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who applied a cream containing 0.025% capsaicin for 4 times daily for 4 weeks experienced an average pain reduction of 57%.
When you first use a capsaicin ointment, it tends to cause a burning sensation but this dissipates within a few minutes and tends to lessen with repeated applications. Do take care not to use a heating pad on the skin where you’ve applied capsaicin. Don’t use an ointment containing this component on irritated or broken skin either.89
5. Have Ginger
Ginger has traditionally been used in Sino-Japanese medical systems and ayurveda for ages to treat rheumatic and inflammatory conditions. Studies indicate that consuming ginger can ease pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Ginger may work by inhibiting the biosynthesis of leukotriene and prostaglandin – both of which are compounds that play important parts in inflammation.10 Incorporating this beneficial spice into your dishes doesn’t just boost flavor, it also gives your food healing powers! You can also brew a ginger tea and have this twice every day.
6. Drink Green Tea
Green tea is known for its potent anti-inflammatory effects and may help tackle rheumatoid arthritis too. Research indicates that a phytochemical known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) present in green tea can inhibit a signaling protein known as TAK1 which plays an important role in the tissue destruction and inflammation seen in rheumatoid arthritis.11 So brew yourself a nice cup of green tea and drink up.
7. Incorporate Turmeric Into Your Diet
Turmeric has traditionally been used in India to tackle conditions associated with inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis. Curcumin, a compound present in this spice, is known for anti-inflammatory properties and is responsible for its beneficial effects. One study found that when patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given curcumin, they showed significant improvement in their condition and experienced reduction in swelling and tenderness of joints. Interestingly, curcumin was found to more effective than medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.12 Add turmeric to your dishes or sip on some turmeric tea to experience its healing effects. You can also check with your doctor about having curcumin supplements.
8. Adopt A Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is famously linked to many health benefits such as a lower risk of dying from cancer or heart disease.13 And it happens to be beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis too. Studies have shown that following this diet can improve physical function and reduce pain in people with this condition by fighting inflammation. So what are the elements of the Mediterranean diet? It’s typically rich in nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish and seafood, small portions of lean meat and chicken, and limited amounts of red meat, eggs, butter, and sweets. This diet is naturally high in fiber and includes more fruits and vegetables than a typical American diet.14 15
9. Explore Ayurvedic Treatments
Ayurveda also offers structured regimens to help ease rheumatoid arthritis. Ayurvedic doctors typically offer individualized therapy, so the treatment may differ from person to person based on their individual constitution. It will include taking herbal medicines, purificatory therapies such as medicated enema (vasti) and therapeutic purgation (virechana), and the application of herbal pastes (lepa) and medicated oils, as well as lifestyle and dietary modification. One study which looked at 290 patients who underwent ayurvedic treatment for periods ranging from a month to 6 months reported improvement in aspects such as the number of swollen and painful joints, grip strength, walking time etc. following the treatment.16
10. Practice Tai Chi Or Yoga
Age-old mind and body practices such as tai chi and yoga may be beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Tai chi coordinates gentle and slow movements with breathing, mental focus, and meditation while yoga combines powerful physical postures with breathing exercises and meditation. Research indicates that tai chi can improve physical condition and balance as well as reduce pain; it may not, however, be able to address aspects such as joint swelling and pain which are specific to rheumatoid arthritis. Meanwhile, yoga may reduce the number of swollen and tender joints and also improve physical function.
Do seek guidance from experienced practitioners to help you design and practice a regimen that can help with rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, your yoga teacher may modify yoga postures to minimize stress on joints or advise the use of props in order to help with balance.17 18
|↑1||Rheumatoid arthritis. National Health Service.|
|↑2||Rheumatoid Arthritis. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑3||Heat therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑4||Kremer, Joel M., David A. Lawrence, Gayle F. Petrillo, Laura L. Litts, Patrick M. Mullaly, Richard I. Rynes, Ralph P. Stocker et al. “Effects of high‐dose fish oil on rheumatoid arthritis after stopping nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs clinical and immune correlates.” Arthritis & Rheumatology 38, no. 8 (1995): 1107-1114.|
|↑5||Abramson, S. B., and A. Amin. “Blocking the effects of IL‐1 in rheumatoid arthritis protects bone and cartilage.” Rheumatology 41, no. 9 (2002): 972-980.|
|↑6||Zurier, Robert B., Ronald G. Rossetti, Eric W. Jacobson, Deborah M. Demarco, Nancy Y. Liu, Joseph E. Temming, Bernadette M. White, and Michael Laposata. “Gamma‐linolenic acid treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, placebo‐controlled trial.” Arthritis & Rheumatism 39, no. 11 (1996): 1808-1817.|
|↑7||Evening Primrose Oil. University of Michigan.|
|↑8||Deal, Chad L., Thomas J. Schnitzer, E. Lipstein, James R. Seibold, Randall M. Stevens, Moise D. Levy, D. Albert, and F. Renold. “Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial.” Clinical therapeutics 13, no. 3 (1991): 383-395.|
|↑9||Ask the doctor: How does hot pepper cream work to relieve pain?. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑10||Srivastava, K. C., and T. Mustafa. “Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders.” Medical hypotheses 39, no. 4 (1992): 342-348.|
|↑11||Singh, Anil K., Sadiq Umar, Sharayah Riegsecker, Mukesh Chourasia, and Salahuddin Ahmed. “Regulation of Transforming Growth Factor β–Activated Kinase Activation by Epigallocatechin‐3‐Gallate in Rheumatoid Arthritis Synovial Fibroblasts: Suppression of K63‐Linked Autoubiquitination of Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor–Associated Factor 6.” Arthritis & Rheumatology 68, no. 2 (2016): 347-358.|
|↑12||Chandran, Binu, and Ajay Goel. “A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.” Phytotherapy research 26, no. 11 (2012): 1719-1725.|
|↑13||Benefits of Mediterranean diet. National Health Service.|
|↑14||What is a Mediterranean diet?. National Health Service.|
|↑15||Forsyth, Casuarina, Matina Kouvari, Nathan M. D’Cunha, Ekavi N. Georgousopoulou, Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, Duane D. Mellor, Jane Kellett, and Nenad Naumovski. “The effects of the Mediterranean diet on rheumatoid arthritis prevention and treatment: a systematic review of human prospective studies.” Rheumatology international (2017): 1-11.|
|↑16||Krishna, Kumar PR. “The efficacy of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: Cross-sectional experiential profile of a longitudinal study.” International journal of Ayurveda research 2, no. 1 (2011): 8.|
|↑17||Uhlig, Till, Camilla Fongen, Eldri Steen, Anne Christie, and Sigrid Ødegård. “Exploring Tai Chi in rheumatoid arthritis: a quantitative and qualitative study.” BMC musculoskeletal disorders 11, no. 1 (2010): 43.|
|↑18||Rheumatoid Arthritis: In Depth. National Institutes of Health.|