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Alternative treatments for arthritis

Is arthritis cramping your style? Thinking of trying an alternative treatment, but wondering whether any of them work? A growing body of scientific evidence says that a few complementary treatments can actually enhance conventional medicine and help you manage your arthritis better.

Exercise. Water aerobics, swimming, tai chi, yoga, exercise machines, isometrics and the use of small weights are highly recommended. Your goal is to stretch and strengthen the muscles around painful joints, improve range of motion and relieve stiffness. For example, strengthening the quadriceps muscles can reduce knee pain by 20 percent to 30 percent. Use cold packs after exercise to relieve inflammation.

Relaxation therapies. Meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, deep relaxation, breathing exercises and biofeedback can relieve stress, relax muscles and break the pain cycle.

Acupuncture. Hair-fine needles inserted at key points on your skin stimulate deep sensory nerves that tell your brain to release natural painkillers (endorphins). Some insurance companies and HMOs will pay for acupuncture.

Massage. Various types of massage can relax muscles, relieve pain and make you feel good enough to exercise.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). A TENS unit is a portable device you wear on a belt. It delivers mild electrical impulses through electrodes placed on your skin to interrupt pain. You can turn the unit on and off, as needed.

Nutritional supplements. The following supplements have proven their value in numerous studies. Discuss them with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant, may become pregnant, take any medication, are diabetic, are allergic to shellfish or plan to undergo surgery.

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin can keep cartilage flexible and stimulate new growth. Take this combination for six to eight weeks to see if it relieves your pain and stiffness.
  • SAM-e can relieve osteoarthritic pain as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do, but without side effects.
  • Omega-3 oils are natural anti-inflammatories found in fish and flaxseed oil.
  • Vitamin C has been shown to relieve pain and stiffness.

Before you try any alternative therapy

  • Learn all you can. Discuss it with your doctor, research it at your library or on the Internet and talk to others with arthritis who have tried the treatment.
  • Stay away from so-called “miracle” or “secret” formulas. There is no cure for arthritis. Beware of advertising disguised as news articles or testimonials.
  • Ignore claims in favor of using copper bracelets, magnets, kava kava, St. John’s wort, ephedra, thunder god vine and claims telling you to avoid tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.

Proven alternative therapies might bring you relief of pain, anxiety, stress and depression—and that can improve your attitude and quality of life.