Joint Health: The Integrative Approach
Discover how the combination of traditional western-medicine and holistic arthritis treatments creates a more effective integrative approach to improving joint health.
Inflammation is essential to the immune system, but too much may cause damage to the body. In fact, too much unnecessary inflammation is the root of most types of arthritis pain. Different types of arthritis exist with symptoms consisting of pain, swelling, reduced range of motion, and stiffness known to deteriorate joint health. The most common types are Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Osteoarthritis (OA), and Psoriatic Arthritis (PA).
As inflammation is the root to many arthritis symptoms, the main treatments available look to reduce inflammation in the body as much as possible. While arthritis is not reversible, many treatments have been shown to reduce symptoms and improve overall quality of life.
Traditional approaches to combating arthritis include physical therapy, weight loss, and pain medication. However, when paired with more natural and holistic treatment options, it is considered an integrative medical approach. Integrative medicine approaches arthritis pain management using a combination of conventional Western medical treatments and alternative treatments.
Many alternative therapies are supported by clinical evidence. For those treatments with little to no clinical evidence, they are thought to be helpful treatment options as they pose few risks or side effects while still providing overall health benefits.
Suggested alternative treatments often include acupuncture, massage therapy, nutrition, and various forms of exercise, such as yoga and tai chi. While it is always important to speak with your primary care physician, some or all of these approaches may be used to reduce arthritis symptoms and improve health.
An expertly placed needle produces a signal that travels through the spinal cord to the brain, triggering a release of neurotransmitters believed to reduce the sensation of pain. Research also indicates that acupuncture treatments induce the production of cortisol, a hormone that helps control inflammation, providing short-term pain relief from arthritis. As well, electroacupuncture may reduce symptomatic knee pain, however, more trials are needed.
Research has shown that frequent massages can reduce levels of some inflammatory cytokines and increase the production of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin. Depending upon the level of pressure received, massages may either be relaxing or stimulating. Understanding which massage type would be best depends upon the specific arthritis type and location of pain.
The goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to reduce unnecessary inflammation that may lead to joint degeneration and pain. This type of diet eliminates foods that may facilitate inflammation, such as processed or fried foods, red meat, and refined sugars; instead, opting for foods thought to combat inflammation – vegetables, fruits, seafood, and some supplementation. However, there is no one anti-inflammatory diet that will work with everyone – each of us has different triggers for inflammation and there may be some trial and error to this treatment option.
Vitamins, minerals, herb, and probiotics have all been studied as alternative treatment options for those suffering from arthritis. Some of the most-researched supplements include Glucosamine Chondroitin Sulfate, Fish Oil, and Turmeric. While safe for most people, these supplements aim to reduce inflammation and improve joint health through many different factors.
Yoga incorporates several elements of exercise that may be beneficial for arthritis, including activities to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. A 2018 meta-analysis found that regular yoga training helped reduce knee arthritic symptoms, promoting physical function, and general wellbeing in patients. However, yoga must be practiced with care as certain movements must be progressed slowly.
This Chinese martial art, consisting of controlled sequences of calisthenic-like movements, has been shown to improve lower-limb muscle function as well as mood, quality of life, and overall physical function. Tai Chi is thought to be extremely safe to perform as there are many different options – seated and standing among others.
Many people with arthritis pain find that a combination of treatments works best for them, however, finding the right mix is often a process of trial and error. Speak with your doctor to find a strategy that may combine traditional arthritis treatments with integrative medicines for a more holistic approach.