The terms Complementary Medicine and Alternative Medicine (abbreviated CAM) are often used interchangeably.
If you are considering using CAM:
Examples of common CAM for Arthritis:
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Mind-body therapies—such as meditation, relaxation, and tai chi—are among the most commonly used types of CAM in the United States. They have been used and studied for a variety of pain conditions, including RA. Results from clinical trials suggest that mind-body therapies may be beneficial additions to RA treatment regimens. They may have particular value in helping people cope with their disease.
Surveys suggest that people who use CAM for RA are likely to try dietary and herbal supplements. Although no supplement has shown clear treatment benefits, there is preliminary evidence for a few—particularly fish oil, gamma-linolenic acid, and the herb thunder god vine. Dose, safety, and potential interactions with conventional medicines need to be more thoroughly evaluated.
Fish oil contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids—substances the body needs in order to perform a number of important functions. The body can also use omega-3s to make substances that reduce inflammation. Interest in the use of fish oil for RA stems from observations that groups of people who consumed large amounts of foods rich in omega-3s had lower rates of inflammatory diseases. Types of fish high in omega-3s include herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna. Fish oil supplements are available as capsules or oils.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid found in the oils of some plant seeds, including evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), borage (Borago officinalis), and black currant (Ribes nigrum). In the body, GLA can be converted into substances that reduce inflammation.
Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Extracts are prepared from the skinned root of the herb, as other parts of the plant are highly poisonous. Thunder god vine can cause severe side effects. Although widely used in China, commercial thunder god vine products are not readily available in the United States.
Other Types of CAM
Other CAM therapies are used for RA:
Some people with RA may try following special diets—such as vegetarian and vegan diets, the Mediterranean diet, and periods of fasting—to control symptoms. Research on these diet approaches has been inconclusive. While a few studies suggest that decreasing or eliminating consumption of meat, dairy, or foods likely to cause allergies may be helpful in some cases, others do not. One drawback is that special diets may be difficult for people to follow over time. In addition, some diets could put people at risk for nutritional deficiencies.If You Have RA and Are Thinking About Using CAM
Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s (NCCAM) Time to Talk campaign at nccam.nih.gov/timetotalk/.
CAM begins with regular supervised exercise: strongly recommended for all arthritis patients to
Exercise is essential for treatment of arthritis, yet more than 33 percent of arthritis patients say they do not exercise!
If you are suffering from arthritis pain, you can try pain management with natural treatments first. They’re effective for some people, but not for others.
Your best course of action is to work with your family doctor so he or she can monitor the effectiveness of what you’re doing, and how long relief lasts.
If you have early-stage arthritis, non-surgical treatments are probably the first options your doctor will pursue in treating joint pain.
If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor can help you choose from of a wide range of treatment options. The effectiveness of these non-surgical treatments varies from person-to-person.
Rheumatoid arthritis is usually treated with medication. A wide variety of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory, cortisone-like prescriptions are usually used.
In either case, the goal of treatment is to reduce pain, increase function and help you return to normal activities.
Nonsurgical treatments fall into four major groups:
There is no known cure for arthritis but many medications can help to reduce pain and maintain joint movement. For more information about medications, click here.
Natural Treatments and Lifestyle Modification
Lifestyle modifications can include losing weight, switching from high-impact exercises like running or jumping to low-impact workouts like swimming or cycling, and minimizing activities that aggravate the condition, such as climbing stairs. Simple weight loss can reduce stress on weight bearing joints, like the knee, resulting in reduced pain and increased function.
Research has shown that exercise is an essential tool in managing your arthritis. The benefits of an appropriate exercise program inclued:
Excercise also helps promote overall health and wellness by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, controlling your weight, decreasing depression, and giving you more self-esteem.
The Arthritis Foundation offers an excellent guide to exercise for people with arthritis.
Using supportive devices, such as a cane, wearing energy-absorbing shoes or inserts, or wearing a brace or knee sleeve can be helpful. Some research studies have focused on the use of knee braces for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. They may be especially helpful if the arthritis is centered on one side of the knee. A brace can assist with stability and function. There are two types of braces that are often used. An "unloader" brace shifts load away from the affected portion of the knee. A "support" brace helps support the entire knee load. In most studies, the knee symptoms improved, with a decrease in pain on weightbearing and a general ability to walk longer distances.
While there is no known cure for arthritis, medications and treatments can help to reduce pain and maintain joint movement.
The medications most commonly prescribed by doctors include:
Prior to prescribing for you, your doctor’s first question will be, “Are you allergic to any drugs?”
Before accepting his prescription(s), ask your doctor about results you can expect and how soon the drug should start to work. Ask him or her about any known potentially harmful side effects of the drug so you’re alert to them.
Be sure to ask how your progress will be monitored. Will you require routine blood tests?
Your doctor may suggest that you relieve pain with local steroid injections for a specific painful joint. Most doctors will not allow more than three injections per year as they may weaken bones. If you participate in sports professionally, steroids are not for you.
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