Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Tips for Natural Relief from Osteoarthritis Pain

Alternating hot and cool moisture can provide instant relief, but a long-term change to diet can lead to a profound decrease in pain.

Woman standing under drops of water.
Contrast hydrotherapy can decrease joint pain from arthritis.

The warming Seattle weather is giving many of us incentive to enjoy the outdoors and become more active. For some, increased activity can flare-up arthritis pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. The following are five natural ways to address arthritic pain:

Weight Loss

If someone is overweight, this is indeed a great goal to include in any comprehensive plan to address osteoarthritis. Even modest decreases in weight can improve joint function. Appropriate rest after a flare-up of pain is also critical for preventing excessive wear on arthritic joints. Generally, 12 to 24 hours of rest after an episode of acute inflammatory pain is adequate. Too much rest can lead to atrophy of muscles and lessened joint mobility.

Topical Creams

Topical capsaicin cream has been shown to be effective for osteoarthritis pain. Capsaicin is a compound extracted from cayenne, or Capsicum species, peppers. Creams with 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent capsaicin, and sometimes even less, have been shown to be temporarily effective for decreasing joint pain. The cream is typically applied to affected joints up to three times a day.

Alternating Hot, Cool Moisture

Contrast hydrotherapy is another simple home remedy that can decrease joint pain and soreness. Simply put, the topical application of alternating hot and cool moisture helps the body’s blood vessels to expand and contract, essentially acting as a circulatory pump. Improved circulation to the body’s muscles and joints will naturally enhance the health and healing of joint tissues, speeding the removal of cellular wastes and hastening the arrival of nourishing nutrients. Contrast hydrotherapy can be done in the shower, with at least three cycles of three minutes of hot water followed by 30 seconds of cold or cool water. It can be applied to a specific area of the body or joint in the shower or outside the bath with moistened towels. The degree of heat or cold should be only to tolerance, and persons with diabetes, asthma or Raynaud’s conditions should avoid very cold applications.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

For the extra motivated, an anti-inflammatory diet can be very effective. Although osteoarthritis is not always an inflammatory process, many patients have benefitted from following an anti-inflammatory diet. Specifically the diet has helped to reduce pain and increase mobility, in addition to its added cardioprotective and other benefits. There are many types of anti-inflammatory diets out there, but a good starting place is Dr. Jessica Black’s The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book, published in 2006.

Lastly, it’s important for anyone with arthritis pain to see their health care providers for continued management and monitoring. A trip to a qualified Chinese herbalist would be ideal, for individualized herbal treatments specific to each person’s unique presentation. To make an appointment at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, call 206-834-4100.

— Eva Kozura, ND, RD, LAc, naturopathic doctor, registered dietitian, licensed acupuncturist and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

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