Arthritis is a general term for inflammation and swelling of the joints and soft tissue that surrounds them. It occurs when the cartilage, or "cushioning" tissue around your joints starts to wear away. Over time, this condition causes pain, limits your range of motion, and may even cause joint deformity.
Arthritis is chronic, and may worsen over time. Symptoms will come and go, often without warning. In American adults, it's a leading cause of work disability.
- Pain in the joints, dull and aching at first, then progressing to sharp pain
- Loss of motion, possible grinding or cracking
- Joints that swell, turn red, and are tender
- Wearing away of soft tissues
- Weakness in one or more joints
Remedies and Treatments for Arthritis
When you're trying to manage arthritis pain, pay attention to daily activities and notice how they affect your joints.
General Lifestyle and Movement Tips:
- Daily exercise encourages the joints to move. Ask your doctor about stretching activities to improve your range of motion.
- Sit up straight to keep the body aligned. A physical therapist can guide you through the safest ways to sit, stand, and move through the day.
- Find a balance between constructive rest and activity. It's easy to overdo, which can lead to more joint damage and pain.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain your weight to reduce excess pressure and stress on your joints.
- Put out the cigarettes for good. Smoking places additional stress on your connective tissues and result in additional joint pain.
Arthritis can make you feel stiff and achy. Taking medication can help, but there are natural treatments designed to reduce pain and increase movement.
- Acupuncture: An ancient form of Chinese medicine that involves inserting tiny needles into the skin to stimulate specific pressure points. Acupuncture helps stimulate connective tissue, improves blood flow, and activates the body's natural painkillers.
- Massage: Manipulating muscles with gentle or moderate pressure can reduce pain and increase range of motion. Timing is important—if you're having a particularly bad flare-up, you may want to avoid putting additional strain on sore joints.
- Yoga: A mind-body practice that combines movement, deep breathing, and meditation. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress, create a feeling of relaxation, and decrease joint pain and stiffness.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulation (TENS): A form of electrical stimulation that uses an electromagnetic current. Electrodes are placed on swollen joints, allowing the current to travel through the skin to alleviate pain.
You may also want to consider incorporating foods that are known to flight inflammation, strengthen bones, and boost the immune system to your diet. The following foods are recommended as natural treatments for arthritis:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Low-fat dairy products
- Green Tea
- Citrus Fruits
Your doctor will suggest different medications based on the type and severity of your condition. Arthritis treatments range from painkillers to creams to steroids, and are often used in combination to alleviate symptoms.
- Over-the-Counter (OTC) and Prescription Painkillers: OTC pain medications like Tylenol relieve pain but don't fight inflammation. If you're having a severe flare-up, your doctor may prescribe opioids. However, these can be habit-forming over a period of time.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Ibuprofen, found in Advil, and naproxen, found in Aleve, reduce pain and inflammation. Taking NSAIDs may lead to stomach irritation and increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
- Counterirritants: Topical creams, ointments, and gels that contain a numbing or cooling ingredient, like menthol. These are applied directly to the skin.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): Medications that prevent the immune system from attacking the joints.
- Corticosteroids: Injected or taken in pill-form, these steroids prevent the immune system from attacking your joints and the surrounding tissue.
When to See a Doctor
If you're experiencing minor aches, pains, and general stiffness, you can rely on natural remedies and at-home treatments. If you notice sharp pain or a flare-up that lasts longer than a week, it's time to take action. Call your doctor if:
- At-home therapy, like icing, OTC painkillers, and rest, isn't working
- One joint or area flares-up more than usual, preventing your normal activities
- Resting isn't improving your pain
- You take multiple medications for arthritis and other health conditions