Some people with osteoarthritis find relief with natural treatments, such as physiotherapy and acupuncture. Many experts recommend a combination of drug and natural treatments for people with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage inside a joint breaks down and wears away, leading to changes in the bone in the joint. The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the hands, hips and knees. There is evidence that some non-pharmacological treatments for osteoarthritis are beneficial for some people. Physical therapy and lifestyle changes, for example, can help people manage their symptoms. This article describes some common natural treatments for osteoarthritis, including heat and cold therapy, supplements, and acupuncture.
Do natural treatments help osteoarthritis?
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. When prescribing treatments, doctors aim to help people manage their symptoms so they can have a good quality of life.
Doctors tend to recommend a combination of natural and pharmacological, or drug-based treatments. Options include physical activity, physical therapy, and pain medication. Although there is some evidence that some natural treatments are beneficial for people with osteoarthritis, more research is needed to confirm the benefits of other treatments. Below are some common natural approaches to osteoarthritis.
Heat or cold therapy
Applying heat or cold to the affected joint can help reduce the pain and swelling associated with osteoarthritis.
A 2021 study of 117 people with knee osteoarthritis found that heat therapy and cold friction gel effectively improved pain and joint function. Applying heat to a painful joint causes the blood vessels in the area to dilate. This allows more blood, oxygen and nutrients to flow to the inflamed tissues. Increasing circulation in this way can relax stiff muscles and joints. The organization adds that cold treatment has the opposite effect and reduces inflammation. For this reason, it might be a better choice when a person is having a flare-up.
A person can try heat therapy by:
taking a hot shower
applying a warm compress, such as an electric heating pad or a damp washcloth that the person has heated in the microwave
bathing in a pool or hot tub for about 20 minutes.
A person can try cold therapy by:
wrapping a bag of frozen vegetables in a thin towel and using it as a cold compress
buy a reusable ice or gel pack
place a towel in the freezer for 15 minutes, then apply it to the painful area
use cold friction gel
Physical therapy can help a person move around safely and efficiently. Physical therapists tailor therapy programs to people’s needs, but they usually include stretching and targeted exercises.
Physiotherapy can provide the following benefits to a person with osteoarthritis:
help maintain flexibility and range of motion
strengthen muscles to help support the damaged joint
increase the strength of the muscles surrounding the joint
maintaining physical fitness
help the person to carry out daily activities.
Support devices can protect joints and help a person perform daily tasks. A physical therapist, occupational therapist, or orthotist can fit a person with braces or splints that help align and support the joints. Canes and walkers can reduce the load the body places on damaged joints while walking. People with severe osteoarthritis can move around more easily.
Support devices include:
Doctors often recommend that people with osteoarthritis adopt or maintain certain lifestyle habits, such as a nutritious and balanced diet, exercise and sleep. Controlling cholesterol levels and keeping blood pressure within a healthy range can also ease symptoms of osteoarthritis. If necessary, it can also be useful to quit smoking. People with osteoarthritis can benefit from achieving or maintaining a moderate body mass index (BMI) because excess body weight can put extra pressure on damaged joints.
The authors of a 2018 review published in the journal Rheumatology note that certain foods may help reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis symptoms. Beneficial foods include fatty fish, such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon, as well as avocados and nuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers recommend eating one or two servings a week and taking a daily fish oil supplement.
Evidence that supplements effectively treat osteoarthritis symptoms is limited. A person should speak to their doctor before taking any supplements, as these can interfere with prescribed medications.
Popular supplements for osteoarthritis include:
glucosamine and chondroitin
avocado/soya unsaponifiables (ASU)
undenatured type II collagen (UC-II)
body and mind
Mind-body approaches, such as yoga, tai chi, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may help some people manage their osteoarthritis symptoms.
In 2019, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Arthritis Foundation reviewed the available evidence on different treatments for osteoarthritis. Based on this information, they:
highly recommend tai chi for people with knee or hip osteoarthritis because it can help people improve their strength and balance.
recommend under certain conditions yoga to people suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.
conditionally recommend CBT for people with osteoarthritis of the knee, hip or hand.
Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves a trained therapist inserting fine needles through the skin at specific locations to balance the flow of energy or life force in the body. In recent years, many people have suggested that acupuncture can help with osteoarthritis pain.
A 2019 review looked at the evidence for using acupuncture to treat osteoarthritis of the knee. The authors conclude that acupuncture can effectively reduce pain and improve knee function. However, they point out that more research is needed to confirm its benefits.
Osteoarthritis usually develops slowly over time, but it can develop faster after an injury. Osteoarthritis can increase the risk of complications in some people. Aching joints make exercise more difficult, which increases the risk of weight gain. Being overweight can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it is possible to manage the symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.
Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage inside the joints breaks down. It can cause pain, stiffness and swelling. Osteoarthritis is incurable and tends to get worse over time. Doctors usually recommend a combination of natural and drug treatments. Natural treatments for osteoarthritis include physical therapy, lifestyle changes, heat and cold therapy, and support devices. People can find relief from their symptoms through different approaches. Before trying a new treatment, a person may want to talk to a doctor about it.
Ariana, M., et al. (2021). The effect of local heat therapy versus cold rub gel on pain and joint functions in patients with knee osteoarthritis [Abstract].
Dumain, T. (2018). Cold therapy for arthritis: 6 simple ways to do it at home.
Katz, JN, et al. (2021). Diagnosis and treatment of hip and knee osteoarthritis: A review.
Kolasinski, SL, et al. (2020). 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation guideline for the management of osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee.
Li, J., et al. (2019). The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis: An overview of systematic reviews.
Thomas, S., et al. (2018). What is the evidence for a role for diet and nutrition in osteoarthritis?
* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice. [HighProtein-Foods.com]