Natural pain therapy is a broad term used to describe complementary and alternative therapies used to ease pain and inflammation. For people with arthritis, these remedies are used in combination with traditional medical treatments (such as medications, physical therapy or surgery). Natural therapies are not meant to replace your medications or treatments prescribed by your doctor, but in some cases they may take the place of certain anti-inflammatories and allow you to use fewer medications.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into the skin at specific points on the body to correct the flow of qi (pronounced chee), restoring the flow of energy and blocking pain. According to Chinese medicine, qi runs along 14 pathways in the body called meridians. If one of the pathways or channels is blocked, pain or illness can occur.
Acupressure is based on the same principle as acupuncture but uses the fingers, knuckles and palms to apply pressure along your body. It’s been practiced in China for 5,000 years.
Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, botanicals, amino acids and any part of those substances (such as extracts or concentrates) that you take to enhance wellness. They can be used to fight pain and inflammation, enhance sleep, reduce fatigue and boost mood, among other uses. Dietary supplements are chemicals, although from a source found in nature. They can affect your body just like chemicals produced in a laboratory. Supplements have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines, so always let your doctor know about supplements you’re using or considering.
Hot and cold therapy can reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Cold is best for acute pain. It restricts blood vessels, slows circulation and reduces swelling. It also numbs nerve endings, dulling pain, so it’s especially good for joint pain caused by a flare. Heat relaxes your muscles and stimulates blood circulation. You can use dry heat, such as a heating pad, or moist heat, such as a warm bath. It’s good for easing morning stiffness or for getting your body limber and ready to exercise.
Massage therapy can help relieve pain by relaxing muscles, improving circulation, and relieving stress and tension. There are more than 100 kinds of massage, including deep tissue massage, reflexology, shiatsu, Swedish massage and trigger point therapy. You can be treated by a licensed therapist in a private setting, at a spa or in a physical therapy office; or you can practice self-massage at home.
Mind-body therapies are designed to harness the power of the mind to lower stress, lessen pain and improve health. These activities include cognitive behavioral therapy, guided imagery, meditation, visualization, hypnosis, yoga and tai chi, to name a few. Some you can do on your own with the help of DVDs, CDs or online videos. Others you can do in a class setting or with a licensed therapist. The key is finding a method that works best for you.