Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. Medications can help manage symptoms, and some people also benefit from natural remedies.

RA affects about 1.3 million adults in the United States, which equals 0.6-1% of the country’s population. About 35% of people with the condition experience disabling symptoms that interfere with their ability to work.

There are several medication-free measures that may help a person reduce the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for some people.

This article covers a range of natural remedies for RA symptoms, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes that can help.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), targeted physical therapy can benefit people living with RA. This may involve stretching, exercise, and alternating between hot and cold.

1. Stretching

Stretching the muscles around the affected joints can provide some relief from RA symptoms.

A 2015 study found that simple stretches and strengthening exercises can help alleviate symptoms of RA in the hands and wrists.

The authors concluded that the stretches can support conventional methods of care.

Check with a doctor or physical therapist before attempting any stretching in an area with RA. Some exercises can add harmful stress to the joints.

2. Exercise

In addition to performing targeted stretches, some dynamic, low-stress forms of exercise can benefit people living with RA.

Activities such as swimming or cycling can strengthen the muscles around the affected joints. This can help reduce the overall impact on the joints and slow the progression of RA.

3. Heat and cold

There is limited medical evidence about the benefits of applying heat or cold to relieve pain in the joints. Some people may find temporary relief from either heating or cooling these sore areas. At home, a person can use heat or ice packs.

Tip: Never put ice directly on the skin. Wrap it first in a towel.

4. Balanced rest

Rest is important for treating joint aches. However, too much rest or a sedentary lifestyle can make aching joints worse.

Working with a doctor or physical therapist can help ensure that a person finds the right balance between rest and strengthening exercise.

5. Stress relief

Research shows that stressful events may exacerbate or cause the onset of symptoms of RA. This relationship between stress and RA appears to be more significant in women.

There are a number of things a person can do to help them cope with stress. These activities may also help relieve some RA pain. They include:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • massage
  • acupuncture
  • biofeedback
  • tai chi

6. Cognitive behavioral therapy

In addition, therapy or counseling may help a person reduce anxiety and cope better with RA-related pain.

The most common therapeutic modality used for people living with RA is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Other modalities include psychotherapy and mindfulness.

7. Support groups

A person can also seek out support groups for rheumatoid arthritis, where they can find understanding and empowerment from other people who understand how it feels to live with the condition.

This can help cope with the symptoms and reduce anxiety around day-to-day life with the condition.

A person can find support groups locally through their healthcare clinic or hospital or by searching online for organizations in their area. Some national organizations may offer local support groups or host meetings virtually.

Examples of organizations that offer support groups for people living with RA include:

8. Assistive devices

A person living with RA may be able to relieve some pain by using assistive devices in their day-to-day lives. For example, a 2014 study showed that wearing a wrist splint can help reduce pain in the joints of the wrist.

Additional options for assistive devices include:

  • zipper pulls
  • buttoning aids
  • can openers, food processors, and other assistive kitchen appliances
  • bathtub handrails
  • adjustable chairs, wireless headsets, and other office gear that can reduce the use of painful joints
  • kneepads for kneeling
  • A wide key holder for a vehicle key

9. Diet

Inflammation is a main characteristic of RA, and following an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce symptoms.

Research published in 2015 studied the effects of a plant-based diet on levels of a protein known to cause inflammation.

The researchers concluded that a vegan diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds significantly reduced systemic inflammation in participants.

A person should also avoid processed foods, butter, oil, sugar, and animal products.

10. Supplements

Research from 2017 also recommends people living with RA eat probiotic yogurt and spices like turmeric and ginger, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

In fact, the results of multiple studies suggest that turmeric and curcumin can prevent and combat inflammation.

However, use supplements that contain turmeric with care. People who take blood thinners, such as warfarin, should avoid turmeric.

The following supplements may also benefit people living with RA:

  • Fish oil from cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, cod, and herring, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids help combat inflammation by blocking inflammatory receptors.
  • Indian frankincense, or Boswellia serrata, also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and supplements may help relieve symptoms of RA.
  • Probiotic supplements may also benefit people living with RA. A 2014 study found that administering the Lactobacillus casei 01 probiotic to people living with RA for 8 weeks resulted in improved disease activity and inflammation. A person can take supplements or consume probiotics in food. In addition to some yogurts, another example of probiotic-rich food is pickles.

Can vitamins help rheumatoid arthritis?

Many healthy foods also contain vitamins that may help reduce the risk of RA development or symptom flare-up. These vitamins include vitamins C, A, E, and D.

Research has shown that vitamin D specifically may play a role in the development and progress of RA.

Research from 2021 showed that supplementing specifically with vitamin D for 5 years reduced the risk of developing an autoimmune disorder by 22%.

What to watch out for?

Anyone planning to start taking supplements should consult a doctor. Some can have side effects or interfere with other treatments.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs and supplements. As a result, the doses can be irregular, and there have been some reports of contamination.

However, a person can check the safety and quality of a supplement via a third-party certification organization. These include:

The aims of any treatment for RA are to:

  • reduce pain and swelling
  • slow damage to the joints
  • maintain a person’s range of motion and mobility

OTC treatment for RA

A person can take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve joint pain. Common choices are ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

For some people, topical creams, gels, or patches may be a better option for pain relief. This includes people who have smaller joints, those older than 65, or those that need a specialized option prescribed by a doctor.

A person may wish to consult with a doctor on the best option for them.

Prescription medications

Many people living with RA benefit from a combination of conventional and complementary therapies. In some cases, a person may need prescription medication.

According to the American College of Rheumatology’s 2021 Guideline for the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the first line of treatment for people with moderate-to-severe symptoms is methotrexate.

Methotrexate is one of several disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). This means that it is one of a group of drugs that can help slow the impact of RA on the joints.

A doctor will often prescribe one of these medications within 3 months of an RA diagnosis. In the case of mild disease, sulfasalazine may be an option over methotrexate.

Because RA is progressive and grows more severe without intervention, treatment tends to be intensive, at least initially. In many cases, rheumatologists will prescribe several medications together as combination therapy, if needed.

It is important to discuss medical treatments and other remedies with a healthcare professional.

It is essential to speak with a doctor before using any new remedies, including exercises and supplements.

Also, contact a doctor if swelling, pain, or other symptoms become worse.

Anyone who has received an RA diagnosis should consider a combination of medications, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes that can reduce pain, support mobility, and promote well-being.

A variety of natural remedies exist that may help a person reduce pain associated with RA or improve their ability to cope with the symptoms.

These remedies range from making dietary changes and exercising to taking OTC medications, practicing mindfulness, and reducing stress.

Some remedies may work better for some people than for others. A person may need to practice these strategies together with other medical treatments in consultation with a doctor to get the most optimal results.

Are there any new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis?

In recent years a number of new RA treatments have emerged. This includes new DMARDs and biologics.

Who is more at risk of rheumatoid arthritis?

There are a number of risk factors that may predispose someone to develop RA. They include older age, family history of the disease, smoking, and obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are 2-3 times more likely to develop that condition than men. Research also shows that non-Hispanic African Americans may have a higher risk of developing the disease. This is likely related to disparities in access to quality care for people from historically marginalized groups.

Can I cure rheumatoid arthritis?

Despite improvements in treatments, it is still not possible to cure RA. The treatment focuses on symptom management and prevention of joint damage.

Read the article in Spanish.