Medications help in arthritis, however, adding non-pharmaceutical therapies is the best way to enjoy a pain-free life
Arthritis means inflammation of joints. This inflammation causes pain. Things are made worse by the spasm of the surrounding muscles. It is a chronic, progressive, and debilitating condition.
100s of disease conditions cause arthritis. However, the two most common causes are osteoarthritis (wear and tear of joints related to aging) that affects larger joints and may be asymmetrical (like affecting single knee joint). Or rheumatoid arthritis that may affect large and small joints and is mostly symmetrical.
The issue with arthritis is that it is difficult to treat and progressive in nature for most individuals. Though there may be periods of recovery, such periods are frequently followed by worsening of pain.
The chronic nature of the disease requires a holistic approach to treatment. In most cases, it would be a good idea to combine medical drugs with complementary therapies like the use of supplements, physiotherapy, and other non-drug therapies.
How would a doctor treat arthritis?
It all depends on the cause of arthritis; a small number of cases may be cured with the help of medications. However, for most people, it is a lifelong problem, and managing pain and inflammation is the only way to remain active. Doctors would generally treat arthritis with the help of pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs. In severe cases, they may resort to hormonal pills. These medications help, but they have severe side effects. In many cases, they are unable to prevent the disease progress thus requiring stronger medications.
What is the role of non-pharmaceutical therapies in arthritis?
Non-pharmaceutical therapies like massage, heat therapy and other methods are highly recommended by modern science along with traditional drug therapy. These complementary therapies can significantly reduce pain and improve quality of life. These additional therapies can also prevent the progress of arthritis. Thus, complementary treatment should be treated as a necessity rather than an option.
Complementary therapies like hot stone therapy, heat therapy, far infrared therapy have many additional benefits. Everyone knows about the mood-elevating effect of massage. These therapies can help reduce depression related to painful conditions, improve quality of sleep, help fight stress, and thus positively influence hormones. Prolonged use of such treatments may provide considerable benefit.
Hot stone therapy
Massage therapy can come in numerous forms. Many types of massage involve using different oils, herbs, ointments, and equipment. Research shows that most Americans view massage therapy positively, and so do the majority of doctors. It is not rare for doctors to recommend massage therapy for people living with arthritis.
Hot stone therapy involves applying preheated basalt or other kinds of stones that can hold heat for longer at the predefined areas on the body. It is frequently combined with some massage.
It is more helpful for back pain; however, thanks to its relaxing effect, it can help in other pains like knee pain or pain in the arms. Preheated stones when used cleverly, can stimulate nerve endings and can have widespread health benefits.
Prolonged use of hot stone therapy helps overcome disease-related anxiety, reduces muscle tenseness, promotes sleep, changes immune responses, improves sleep patterns. For some individuals, it can give unexpected benefits.
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It is the most common type of therapy used in clinics and at home for pain relief. One of the reasons for the popularity of such a treatment is the ease of implementation.
Heat therapy can be done in many ways. Even lying down in a warm bath for long could be regarded as heat therapy. Applying warm packs along with massage are also common. One may use special belts, lamps to reduce pain, spasm, and promote healing.
There is a reason why heat therapy is better done under supervision. There are specific contraindications to heat therapy. In acute phases of inflammation, it may sometimes do more harm than good. However, once the acute phase is over it may help reduce inflammation. Heat also helps loosen the muscle spasm and thus reducing pain and promoting healing.
Specialized clinics know better how to apply heat when to apply and for how long. They also have better equipment for more focused treatment. Further, some patients may benefit from altering heat therapy with other therapies.
Heat therapy is not just about pain relief, or for overcoming muscle spasms, or improving local blood flow and healing. Regular and extended use of such a treatment may alter immune response, may reduce bouts of pain in the future, and may alter the course of the disease.
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Photon Light Therapy
Photon light therapy is about using a visible spectrum of light for the treatment of various disease conditions. Using light rays to treat medical conditions is not new. More than a century back, doctors realized that light is essential for survival, vitamin D production, healthy bones, heart, metabolism, and so on.
In the early days of the modern era, which is in the late 19th and early 20th century, light therapy was widely used to treat numerous disease conditions to cure infections and inflammations. In fact, the 1903 Nobel Prize was given to Niels Finsen for demonstrating the effectiveness of light therapy in skin tuberculosis.
Modern light therapy differs in a way that it uses more diverse light sources and not just a few kinds of lamps. Modern light therapy may use LEDs to lasers of different wavelengths for various purposes.
These lights not only hit the skin but are capable of penetrating a bit deeper. Thus, they boost the production of energy in the skin, also joints. Light may also help reduce inflammation and boost the antioxidant capabilities of the body.
Further, light is known to have a mood-elevating effect. Earlier, it was thought that such an effect only occurs when light stimulates the retina, but now it is known that it may do so even when hitting the skin.
Light may also alter the working of pain receptors; this may have a role in controlling painful conditions like arthritis.
In one clinical trial, light therapy demonstrated a significant benefit in people living with osteoarthritis. Light therapy helped reduce pain and inflammation. Moreover, prolonged light therapy even helped change the course of the disease. Light therapy also promoted healing and the formation of new tissues.
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Far infrared therapy
Infrared light is one of the safest light therapies. Special lamps emitting red light have been used for a long to relieve pain. Infrared is invisible to human eyes; however, near-infrared light is visible as a red color light.
Infrared light has a longer wavelength than the visible spectrum of light. Red light is the visible light to human eyes with the longest wavelength, and infrared light has an even longer wavelength. Longer wavelength means better penetration – this is the reason that the tail light of cars is red and not blue.
Similarly, when infrared light is used to treat conditions, it gives a feeling of mild warmth, a kind of warmth that penetrates deep. It increases blood flow, stimulates cellular energy production, boosts regenerative processes, fastens healing. Since it can penetrate deep, such effects are not limited to soft tissues but are also seen in the joints. That is why this kind of therapy has a special place in the treatment of arthritis.
Clinical studies show that far infrared therapy can help reduce joint pain in various conditions significantly. In one of the studies, just seven days of treatment demonstrated marked improvement when compared to the placebo. However, it is worth noticing that these clinical studies do not use usual infrared lamps, rather high-intensity lasers or other professional equipment for fast results. It means that it will take much longer to get similar results at home.
Arthritis is not just about pain; it is also about a compromised range of motion. Far infrared therapy can help reduce inflammation, local spasm, promote regeneration, and thus help increase range of motion. Far infrared therapy is used with great success in rehabilitation programs.
One of the reasons for continuous joint pain in arthritis is cartilage degeneration. It is extremely difficult to boost cartilage regeneration, especially in older adults. The strongest of drug therapies or various supplements help only to a small degree. Some studies indicate that far infrared therapy may stimulate cartilage regeneration to an extent and thus helping change the course of the disease.
Infrared light therapy would help in arthritis of arms, and hands, in a similar way as in knee arthritis. Studies specifically designed to find out the effectiveness of infrared light therapy in hand osteoarthritis in women demonstrated a marked improvement in pain, functionality, grip strength when compared to the placebo group.
Studies also show the effectiveness of far infrared therapy in other kinds of arthritis, like back pain, rare joint diseases, ankylosing spondylitis, and much more.
If one is unsure about what to expect from such therapy, it is always a good idea to consult a specialist.
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Negative ION therapy
It is known that air in the mountains, beaches, meadows, near waterfalls, and other places of natural beauty have a unique effect on people. People often define such an atmosphere as fresh and magical. However, science shows that it is the abundance of negative ions (negatively charged oxygen species) that provide this air healing property. Science has learned to imitate or reproduce such an atmosphere under controlled conditions for therapeutic purposes.
Negative ion therapy may not have any quick effect on painful joints. However, in the long run, it can help with arthritis by reducing anxiety, mood disorders, helping improve sleep.
Negative ion therapy is known to help with seasonal depression and other mood disorders. Many people living with arthritis also see seasonal flares of the conditions. Negative ion therapy may have a role in preventing such seasonal worsening of the disease.
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Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy uses electromagnetic waves to treat diseases and promote regeneration. This is one of the US FDA approved treatment for some medical conditions like slow-healing fractures, depression, and certain pain conditions.
PEMF has been subject to numerous clinical trials, and studies show that it can help in different types of arthritis. A systemic review of the studies indicates that PEMF can help alleviate pain, increase range of motion, protect joint cartilage, reduce inflammation, promote bone healing, and remodeling.
PEMF is undoubtedly one of the most effective and well-studied (thus proven by science) alternative ways to treat joint diseases or arthritis.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is the most commonly prevalent form of arthritis. As it is mostly age-related wear and tear disease of large joints, it is incredibly challenging to treat. It is a highly progressive disease, even in those on multiple drug therapy. Clinical studies show that when PEMF is added to the drug therapy, it can make a significant difference and does not cause any adverse effects.
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When should one use the therapies mentioned above?
It is necessary to understand that these therapies do not intend to replace the drug therapy; they work best when used along with medications. Most of these therapies can considerably improve the benefits of medical treatment without increasing the risk of adverse events.
Additionally, all these therapies can also be used during periods of remission. They can help prevent severe exacerbations of arthritis.
These therapies also have a role in preventing disease progression. The biggest issue with arthritis is that most of them are progressive and lead to a considerable disability with time. It means that therapies like PEMF, far infrared therapy, heat therapy, photon light therapy, all can help prevent further loss of joint functionality.
It is always a good idea to start these therapies at the earliest so that to prevent further worsening of the condition. These therapies are even recommended for those with fully controlled diseases as these natural treatments would ensure that the disease remains remissive for longer.