Alternative Approaches to Arthritis Treatment

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Alternative Approaches to Arthritis Treatment

More older adults are turning to so-called alternative therapies to treat arthritis pain.

“Osteoarthritis is one of the most frustrating problems rheumatologists have to deal with,” says Nathan Wei, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist and clinical director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, MD. “While we have symptomatic therapies that sometimes help, our approach to treating this disease hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years or so.”

Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatories, recommend you lose some weight, advise you start an exercise program or order assistive devices. Joint replacement may be the only remedy for those with advanced deterioration. Older adults looking for alternatives may turn to treatments with conflicting research about their safety and effectiveness.

Acupuncture is conditionally recommended by the American College of Rheumatology for knee replacement candidates who can’t or won’t get a replacement. “Some people seem to do well” with acupuncture treatment, according to Wei.

Many arthritis patients swallow glucosamine and chondroitin, fish oil, turmeric and bee venom to combat symptoms. “Glucosamine and chondroitin have been studied intensely with conflicting clinical evidence regarding efficacy,” says Wei. “I prefer to try these compounds instead of using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, however, because these supplements are safer. A recent study showed the two together were as effective as celecoxib (Celebrex) as far as pain relief was concerned.”

“Dietary fish oil, flaxseed oil, ginger, garlic and bromelain all have anti-inflammatory effects,” continues Wei. “Although I generally recommend these for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, I do not recommend them for osteoarthritis.”

Topical preparations include capsaicin, salicylates, menthol creams and patches. They change the sensation of pain or counteract it.

Mind-body strategies show some promise. Tai chi mingles gentle exercise with breathing techniques that improve balance, stiffness and joint function in the knee. Qi gong, which also combines exercises and breath control, may have similar benefits, although research is lacking.

Massage therapy to relieve pain and improve joint function is a very safe treatment to try, although there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to prove it works.

Studies have proved that leeches are effective as a topical treatment for osteoarthritis, although the squeamish may not tolerate the slimy creatures. To start, a prick is made to bring a drop of blood to the surface of the skin, and the leech’s mouth is set over the blood to begin sucking.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, how about magnet therapy? Available as bracelets, necklaces, patches and other devices, they may help due to a placebo effect as much as anything. However, if you have an implantable medical device, you should avoid magnets.

Whatever you may be interested in trying, consult with your doctor first to make sure it won’t interfere with your other medications.

Source:  CSA Blog, March 2, 2018

Image courtesy of yodiyim at

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