Several medication-free measures can help reduce the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
In 2014, RA affected 1.28–1.36 million adults in the United States, according to research published in 2017.
This article covers a range of natural remedies for RA symptoms, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes that can help.
A physical therapist can help you find stretches that are suitable for RA and may help ease symptoms.
Stretching the muscles around the affected joints can provide some relief from RA symptoms.
A 2015 study published in Health Technology Assessment 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.
In addition to performing targeted stretches, some dynamic, low-stress forms of exercise can benefit people 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.
Heat and cold
There is conflicting medical evidence about the benefits of applying heat or cold to relieve RA pain in the joints.
Some people 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.
Rest is important for treating joint aches, but 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.
Reducing physical and emotional stress can benefit some people with RA. Gentle methods of relieving stress can include mindful meditation, tai chi, and yoga.
A plant-based diet can boost overall health and may have special benefits for people with RA.
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.
In people with RA, a similar diet aimed to reduce inflammation may ease pain and promote overall wellbeing.
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.
In 2010, researchers published a meta-analysis of investigations into the effects of fish oil on RA.
They found that a combination of fish oil supplementation and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs resulted in less joint tenderness in people who had long-standing symptoms of RA.
The researchers concluded that fish oil may be a beneficial supplemental therapy.
Fish oil supplements are available for purchase online and in many health stores.
Indian frankincense, or Boswellia serrata, also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and supplements may help relieve symptoms of RA.
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.
Probiotics are present in yogurt and pickles, and they may help reduce inflammation.
Probiotics may also benefit people with RA. A 2014 study found that administering the Lactobacillus casei 01 probiotic to people with RA for 8 weeks resulted in improved disease activity and inflammation.
Foods such as some yogurts and pickles are rich sources of probiotics, which are also available as supplements.
Anyone planning to start taking supplements should consult a doctor. Some can have side effects or interfere with other treatments.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate herbs and supplements. As a result, the doses can be irregular, and there have been some reports of contamination.
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
Many people with RA benefit from a combination of conventional and complementary therapies.
Because the disease is progressive, growing more severe without intervention, treatment tends to be intensive.
A doctor will often prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs within 3 months of an RA diagnosis. These can reduce the activity of the disease and prevent deformation in the joints.
It is important to discuss medical treatments and other remedies with a healthcare professional.
When to see a doctor
It 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 wellbeing.