According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 46 million adults (about 22%) in the US have arthritis. If you live in the US, you have about a 50-50 chance of developing arthritis at some point in your life: 50% of women and 40% of men aged 65-74 have it, and the rates increase with age. Arthritis is the #1 cause of disability in the US, and it affects daily activities as well as work. Yet conventional medicine doesn’t have many tools to treat arthritis, and most of these tools shouldn’t be used long-term. Naturopathic medicine takes a different approach when treating arthritis. NDs look at the whole person to find ways to reduce pain, increase mobility and reduce the need for pharmaceutical drugs.
Pain-relieving drugs like NSAIDs (including ibuprofen and naproxen), acetaminophen, and aspirin are the main tools of conventional medicine in the treatment of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Anti-inflammatory drugs like these can ameliorate the pain of arthritis, but in the long run, they can do more harm than good. High daily doses of painkillers damage the liver, which has an important role in the healing process; liver damage can actually reduce the body’s ability to heal the degenerative changes that cause arthritis.
Naturopathic treatment of arthritis is aimed at removing the underlying processes that contribute to joint degradation. Underuse, trauma, carrying excess weight, and inflammation are all contributing factors. A naturopathic doctor will identify the factors that contribute to each person’s arthritis. A comprehensive treatment plan may include nutritional changes, physical activity, supplements, herbal medicine, homeopathy, or hydrotherapy.
A person’s diet can contribute to arthritis in a variety of ways. First, a poor diet leaves a person without the necessary building blocks to make healthy joint tissue. Second, eating inflammatory foods contributes to pain and joint degeneration. Some foods contribute to inflammation in just about everyone; these include sugar, refined foods, fried foods, junk food, and caffeine. An individual’s particular food sensitivities and allergies also contribute. Sometimes these sensitivities are not obvious; the effect of eating a particular food is not immediate, so you may not know that you are reacting to it. However, a food allergy test, or an elimination-challenge diet, will reveal hidden food sensitivities. Avoiding these will decrease the overall level of inflammation in the body, and less arthritis pain is the result.
For most people, exercise improves arthritis symptoms and reduces joint degeneration. Exercise improves muscular strength and reduces the pressure on the joints, which can decrease pain. It also increases blood flow and brings nutrients to the inside of a joint, called the synovium. Exercise that puts too much stress on the joints should be avoided; low-impact exercise such as yoga, swimming, rowing, water aerobics, and cycling are great options. With any exercise, proper body mechanics are important for reducing the potential for injury and reducing stress on the joints. A naturopathic doctor can recommend physical activities that are right for your situation.
Almost everyone has heard of glucosamine for arthritis, and there’s a good reason – many people (although not all) will benefit from glucosamine supplements. Glucosamine helps by helping to rebuild the cartilage in joints. In addition to glucosamine, cartilage formation and repair requires specific vitamins and minerals. When you’re not getting enough of these nutrients from food, taking high-quality nutritional supplements is very helpful. If you’re already taking a variety of nutritional supplements but aren’t sure what you should be taking, ask a naturopathic doctor. NDs are experts at optimizing your supplement protocol, and at investigating interactions with your other medication.
Herbal medicines are chosen to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, supply nutrients, and aid healing. There is a wide variety of herbs that can be used, and different preparations are available – capsules, tea, tinctures (concentrated liquid extracts) and topical applications. Some herbs should not be taken long-term, and getting the correct dose is critical; more is not necessarily better. Naturopathic doctors are skilled in choosing effective herbal medicines that won’t interact with prescription medication.
Homeopathic medicines are chosen specifically for each patient, based on the totality of symptoms they are experiencing. A homeopathic medication that works for one person may not work for someone else with the same condition, because each person experiences it in a different way – and they may each have other symptoms as well. As part of an overall arthritis protocol, your naturopathic doctor may choose a homeopathic medicine that is right for you.
Hydrotherapy means using water to aid healing. The use of specific hydrotherapy techniques – such as alternating hot and cold – can increase blood flow to specific areas, which brings nutrients and helps remove cellular waste.
Are you looking for a long-term solution to arthritis pain, not just a quick fix? A naturopathic doctor can help help you identify and remove underlying factors that contribute to your arthritis. The protocols NDs use are designed to work with the body, to help the body heal itself – naturally!