Alternative therapies for arthritis range from A (acupuncture) to Z (zinc
sulfate), with much in between -- from copper bracelets to magnets to
glucosamine to yoga, to name just a few. But do alternative therapies really
provide arthritis pain relief?
Many arthritis sufferers are looking into alternative therapies in an effort
to find relief from the pain, stiffness, stress, anxiety, and depression that
accompany the disease. Indeed, the Arthritis Foundation reports that two-thirds
of those suffering from the disease have tried alternative therapies.
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A survey conducted for Arthritis Today by Leigh Callahan, PhD,
reported that the favorite alternative therapies of the 790 arthritis sufferers
who responded to the survey included everything from prayer and meditation to
glucosamine and magnets. Callahn is associate director of the Thurston
Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Of the 2,146 physicians who responded to the survey, the alternative
therapies most recommended were capsaicin, relaxation, biofeedback, meditation,
journal writing, yoga, spirituality, tai chi, acupuncture, and glucosamine.
And some of these alternative treatments really work, say leading arthritis
specialists, and even have scientific evidence behind them (although most
doctors admit that more research is needed). On the other hand, many more of
the alternative treatments don't work or need more studies to support anecdotal
Battling Arthritis With Movement
Deborah Litman, MD, a clinical assistant professor in the division of
rheumatology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, is a strong
proponent of exercise (though it's not listed as an alternative treatment per
se) in the treatment of arthritis.
Biking, for example, she explains, strengthens the quadriceps muscle
above the knee; the stronger the muscle, the more likely you are to
see an improvement in your symptoms.
"Impact-loading" activity, on the other hand, such as jogging or
high-impact aerobics, is not recommended, but more gentle exercise, such as
swimming or water aerobics, is.
The mind-body practice of yoga may also help arthritis sufferers.
Though there are few studies that look at the effects of yoga on arthritis
per se, a 1994 study published in the British Journal of Rheumatology
did find that people with rheumatoid arthritis who participated in a yoga
program over a three-month period had greater handgrip strength compared with
those who did not practice yoga.
The same year, another study published in the Journal of
Rheumatology reported that arthritis sufferers who practiced yoga showed a
significant improvement in pain, tenderness, and finger range of motion for
osteoarthritis of the hands.
Sticking It to Arthritis Pain
Acupuncture is another possibility; it is a therapy that has been studied
extensively. As far as we know, says Litman, it doesn't change the course of
the illness. But it can be helpful in managing pain and reducing stress
associated with living with the chronic condition.