Complementary medicine believes that an accumulation of waste contributes to disease. Years of eating the wrong foods, not obtaining enough exercise, and living in a polluted environment tax the body earlier in life than ever before, causing disease more frequently and at a younger age.
Complementary therapies are first and foremost, a gentle approach. They are nonaggressive, noninvasive, and do not set up adverse reactions as can occur with conventional therapies. These treatments are designed to energize the whole body and to ease the pain and discomfort of the disease.
Conventional treatments consist of such pharmaceuticals as salicylates (especially aspirin), as well as nonsteroidal and anti-inflammatory agents, antimalarials, gold salts, and corticosteroids to override symptoms. However, this approach does not address the cause nor does it improve the overall general health of the body.
Complementary treatments, on the other hand, take a holistic approach, treating, not only the disease, but the health and wellbeing of the entire body by rooting out the cause so that it can be eliminated.
The following are some of the complementary therapies specifically for arthritis.
Acupressure is a therapy that uses pressure on specific points of the body to stimulate them into moving along the qi, or life’s force, which unclogs meridians that may be causing a particular ailment. Using pressure points can greatly relieve the pain but may have to be employed two or three times a day in order to gain benefits.
- One such pressure point for pain in general is Li4 (liver median). It is one of the most important points in acupressure and acupuncture therapies. It relieves headaches and other pain, relaxes tense muscles, and helps to balance the flow of energy between the upper and lower parts of the body. It is also used to clear excess heat from the body and to promote healthy functioning of the bowels. It is found in the middle of the fleshy mound in the webbing between the thumb and index finger. Use the thumb and index finger of the other hand, squeeze the center of the webbing pressing toward the bone of the index finger. Hold one minute and repeat with the other hand.
- Another area is Gb41 (gall bladder median). This is located on top of the foot in the channel between the little toe and the 4th toe, slightly less than halfway between the ankle bone and the web margin between the toes but closer to the toes. The pain and discomfort of RA, plus the emotional response to that pain, can constrict the circulation of energy flow. This point is effective in restoring that flow. Press with an index finger or middle finger, using firm pressure. Remember to start with light pressure, build up, hold, and gradually release.
- Gb34 is located at the lower border of the knee cap. Slide your finger off the shinbone below the knee toward the outside of the leg to a place where the two bones come together. Press in the soft tissue area between them using an index finger or both an index finger and middle finger together. This is a major pressure point for nourishing the tendons and joints. It also has a strong effect on promoting the smooth flow of life energy throughout the body. Obstruction of the smooth flow causes pain and discomfort. Disorders of the bone and cartilage are related to kidney energy. This is why, for OA (osteoarthritis), it is beneficial to strengthen kidney energy.
- K3 is considered the source point of the kidney meridian and the root of the “Yin and Yang” of the entire body. It is located on the inside of the inner ankle bone and the Achilles tendon on the back edge of the ankle. To locate, place your thumb on the bony prominence of the ankle bone on the inside area of the leg. Slide the thumb back towards the Achilles tendon. K3 is found in the depression about half way between the ankle bone and the back of the ankle. Press the thumb in this area using medium to firm pressure for about a minute. Release slowly. Repeat on the other side.
Acupuncture is a technique using specialized needles to stimulate painlessly the body’s medians into removing any toxic buildup which is causing disease. It is a deep tissue form of acupressure. Acupuncturists treat more patients with arthritis and back pain that any other complaint. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have been found to respond extremely well to this traditional Chinese therapy.
Alexander technique was developed with the understanding that the way in which one uses his body affects how well it functions. This technique calls for improving postural habits, which can become off-centered when pain affects a particular limb to the extent that it changes the overall body movement in order to accomodate that joint.
Aromatherapy has been used for centuries as a beauty and relaxation therapy, but it also has some medical benefits. There are several recipes that use essential oils in hot water and then applied to the painful joints. Many of these herbal oils help relieve pain and inflammation, but this relief is not guaranteed. As with most therapies, what works for one may not for another. Suggested oils are pine, cypress, and cayenne.
Biofeedback is a type of therapy that uses sophisticated machinery to teach self-control over automatic and reflex-regulated body functions. The visual or auditory response of a highly sensitive machine allows the conscious or unconscious perception of physiological functions to be regulated, as that of the heart, skin temperature, and brain waves. The advantage of the procedure is that you receive instant feedback on the state of your health. With biofeedback, people bring about their own physiological changes by reteaching the body. For the arthritic, the main benefit is the control or relief of pain, which helps to lessen the reliance on painkilling drugs.
Chiropractic is similar to osteopathy in that it alleviates the pain through the manipulation of the joint. The main difference between the two disciplines is that chiropractors use x-rays extensively to diagnose various problems while osteopaths rely on their knowledge of the human body to feel where there is dysfunction and immobility. Chiropractors believe that x-rays make diagnosis more accurate and enables them to go straight to the problem. For the arthritic sufferer, the choice between the two would be if there was a concern for using x-rays and the radiation from them and how much the affected joint can be manipulated without undue pain.
Colour therapy was developed from the view that colour affects not only moods and feelings but also total physical health and wellbeing. Since it is not surprising that the colour of a room can affect one’s mood, it should not be a shock that it would ultimately have an effect on the immune system. The theory of colour therapy suggests that the body absorbs colour in the form of electromagnetic components of light and then produces its own aura of electro-magnetism. This aura gives off a pattern of vibration that can be discerned by a skilled colour therapist. Red, for example, indicates anger while dark shades of green means envy (and thus the reason behind the infamous idiom “green with envy”). Disease manifests itself in the aura as a gray mass of accumulated energy. If this is not resolved, it will continue to manifest itself and become a physical symptom. When it reaches this stage, the colour therapist will have to disperse this mass of stagnant energy by reintroducing the colour frequency into both the physical body and the aura. The colours most used for arthritis are red, orange, gold, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, indigo, violet, and magenta.
Counseling is not so much an alternative answer to treating arthritis as it is a support. Even conventional medicine recognizes the powerful link between the mind and the body and recommends some form of counseling to help cope with a disease process.
Dance therapy has long been recognized as being of tremendous benefit, especially to those who have a weakened immune system. Arthritic sufferers can profit by attending some form of dance class or dance exercise group. Music tends to unlock energy in the human body by stimulating, motivating, supporting, and balancing it. Dance helps to strengthen muscles and joints and regulates the breathing and circulation. Developed by Heinrich Medau, a teacher of music and physical education in Berlin, in 1929, the Medau movement is a formalized but natural system of dance. This was developed from the structure of the body rather than by imposing any distortion or rigidity onto it. There are no jerky repetitions or overstretching. Another of the newest dance movement therapies is one developed from the theories of Rudoph Laban. It is designed to enable people to express their feelings while harmonizing both body and mind through the power of movement. Other types that are suitable for the arthritic and his/her personality are also available.
Exercise has long been thought of as aggravating or even causing osteoarthritis, and so many doctors advised against it. The natural tendency also leans in that direction – when an area hurts, stop using it! Exercise has many emotional and psychological benefits as well. It has been shown to improve the mood because there is a release of endorphins. These are substances secreted by the brain to help mask pain and bring about a feeling of euphoria. Exercise also helps decrease anger and hostility, reduce stress, and improve the memory and learning potential. Many of these stressors aggravate arthritic conditions. Today, we know that lack of exercise can be devastating for the whole body, including the joints. In fact, a lack of exercise promotes the development of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. A sedentary lifestyle is second only to smoking as the most common cause of disease and death in the US alone. Even the simplest of exercises can be tremendously helpful by stimulating the cardiovascular system and thereby improving all body systems. A lack of exercise will also weaken bone structure, thereby increasing the risk of fractures as well as degeneration in general.
The following are some main reasons why exercise is so important – for arthritics, in particular.
- Exercise encourages the flow of synovial fluid into and out of the cartilage. This fluid lubricates and nourishes cartilage, and its very presence is believed to slow the progression of arthritis.
- Exercise strengthens the supporting structures – muscles, tendons, and ligaments, as well as increasing the range of motion, shock absorption, and flexibility of the joints.
- Exercise improves overall physical capabilities, as well as improving emotional health.
- Exercise prevents joint deformities.
- Exercise reduces stress, thereby promoting relaxation and enhancing sleep.
- Exercise improves overall body composition, that is, gaining muscle strength and tone and losing fat.
- Exercise stimulates the immune system, thereby building a resistance to disease while building up a reserve capacity in the event of disease.
- Exercise improves sexual function, satisfaction, and body image.
- Exercise improves balance.
- Exercise helps preserve independence for a longer period of time.
- Exercise strengthens bones. Since bones are living matter, they are constantly changing. The osteoclasts are continually tearing down old bone cells, and osteoblasts are continually building new ones. Weight-bearing and strength-training exercises increase bone density.
The following are some exercise therapies that are not too strenuous for the arthritic:
- Aerobics include brisk walking, jogging, or swimming. It should be done for a minimum of thirty to forty-five minutes at least three times a week. Moderate aerobic exercise done consistently over a longer period of time is more effective than strenuous exercise done in short burst.
- Brisk Walking is the very best aerobic exercise because the heart works at a safe rate, which promotes cardiovascular fitness. A regular walking program can enhance endurance, increase oxygen uptake, improve circulation and muscle tone, promote weight loss, and release toxins through perspiration. Walking has also been known to help with emotional cleansing by reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Pool exercises are excellent as the water acts as a giant cushion, absorbing the shock of movements and provides low-impact exercise. Because water has more resistance than air, exercising in water causes the leg muscles, heart, and lungs to work harder despite the speed being slower. However, it should be noted that pool water can be a threat to asthmatics and those sensitive to chlorine.
- Cycling is not a weight-bearing activity, thus is less stressful to the joints. Bicycling can be as beneficial as running, increasing circulation and the flow of oxygen to the cells and helping to eliminate toxins. Stationary bicycles offer more environmental control and safety than outdoor cycling. The best stationary bikes are those that exercise both the arms and the legs.
- Chi kung and tai chi are two of the most popular martial arts disciplines that are as effective as aerobic exercises for cleansing and detoxifying. Chi kung (qigong) is a Chinese term applied to many different forms of exercise that work with the chi (breath). Kung means discipline, essentially “one who spends time practicin.g. Therefore, chi kung can be interpreted to mean “the practice of proper breathing.” It also provides motions to enhance and strengthen the body as a whole and used for treating chronic diseases. Tai chi is a series of continuous, slow, fluid, and graceful movements that are performed in a relaxed manner, with the knees slightly bent and the body in a straight, upright position. Described as “meditation in motion,” tai chi involves a series of harmonious movements during which one focuses on the breath. When correctly performed, tai chi can stimulate circulation, detoxify, relax the joints, and encourage mental relaxation.
Herbal medicine has been the mainstay of health since time began, but relegated to the status of “snake oil” within the last fifty years or so of the 1900s. However, it is once again regaining importance as an effective and safe treatment for most diseases. The blending of some herbs and water or oil for use internally and externally is both effective and soothing to the arthritic sufferer. Herbs work quite differently from pharmaceutical drugs. Herbal anti-inflammatories are not used as a means to suppress inflammation, which is a part of a healthy body response. Rather, these herbs reduce inflammations by helping the body to overcome the problem – unlike conventional anti-inflammatories. Herbs help restore balance and harmony to the whole body rather than simply treating symptoms. Because the whole plant is used, rather than its isolated chemicals, there is less risk of overdose or adverse side effects. However, they still must be used in a knowledgeable fashion because not all herbs are harmless. Meadowsweet and White Willow are the herbs most often prescribed for arthritis. They contain aspirin-like compounds and have a potent anti-inflammatory action. Meadowsweet is not only rich in aspirin-like substances that reduce swelling and pain, but it is also a diuretic and hepatic (liver support). Thus, it aids the body, not only in the acute complaint, but also in the cleaning and elimination, as well as clearing the root of the inflammation which lies in an accumulation of waste and toxins. Devil’s claw is another popular herb used for arthritis. For gout sufferers, celery seed stimulates the elimination of uric acid while the use of cornsilk or horsetail strengthens the kidneys. Nettle improves circulation and also helps the body get rid of excess harmful acids. (see more under Diet and Arthritis)
Homeopathy is widely known as a treatment that uses tinctures for various ailments. It is another holistic form of healing that treats the mind and body as one. Homeopathic remedies do not treat specific ailments but rather uniquely treat the individual complaint by taking into account the patient’s state of mind, outlook, personality, and general behaviour, as well as the illness itself. Rhus tox or toxicodendrum is the basic remedy for joints and recommended for the types of arthritis that improve with the application of heat but become worse after sitting for long periods. Bryonia is useful for very painful joint conditions that are made worse by the least movement but improve after rest and the application of cold compresses. Calc phos (calcium phosphate) is the remedy used for arthritis of the hands. Calc carb (calcarea carbonica, oystershell) contains large quantities of calcium useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Ars alb (white arsenic) is potentially lethal in the wrong hands, but when used by the homepathic practitioner, it can bring relief to those whose symptoms are markedly worse at night and improve with heat.
Hydrotherapy is based on the theory that when the body is immersed in water, there is less strain on the weight-bearing joints. Water gives a feeling of comfort, relaxation, and lightness of being. Although some people have the luxury of going to a spa, help can also be received at home. Dead Sea minerals, as well as those from other spas, are now available in health food stores for home use. These cannot, by law, claim to heal arthritis, but many sufferers find them extremely effective when added to their bathwater.
Massage has been used for thousands of years for therapeutic purposes. Most pain clinics today offer the therapy in one form or another. There are many different kinds of massage designed for various types of ailments. Those with arthritis require a gentle type which can be recommended by their physical therapist. Massaging with Essential Oils can increase the relief. Using such oils, in a carrier oil (almond, olive etc), as Frankincense, Rosemary, Marjoram, Spruce or Wintergreen can be very effective. (See Nature’s Pharmacy: Evidence-based Alternatives to Drugs for many studies relating to the safe and effective use of Essential Oils)
Meditation is used as the ultimate “mind-over-matter” therapy and has been useful for many, but not all, arthritic sufferers. The practice of settling the mind through conscious effort has been used for thousands of years. It is advocated by many arthritic patients because stress and tension appear to be triggers for aggrivating the disease. Since there are no harmful side effects to relaxation, it can be a decided benefit for any disease.
Naturopathy is composed of a common sense approach to health based on the body’s own healing capabilities. The principle elements of naturopathy are natural resources, including fresh air, sunlight, exercise, rest, good nutrition, hygiene, relaxation, and hydrotherapy. It is an approach that advocates a person taking charge of his own health, and its very simplicity makes this approach feasible. Naturopaths undergo a lengthy and extensive all-round education that involves not only the basics in medicine but also that of natural therapies, including nutrition and herbal medicine.
Nutritional Counseling a therapy that is an integral part of all therapies and most often used by Complementary medical practitioners. There are foods which aggravate arthritic diseases, and counseling along these lines will help, not only the pain, but in the progression of the disease. Supplements of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are producing exciting results in reversing the effects of arthritis. Other supplements containing flavonoids, pancreatic and digestive enzymes, and bromelain have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce pain. Food allergies are known to aggravate symptoms of arthritis, especially those from the nightshade family. Most medical professionals advise that tea, coffee, alcohol, colas, refined sugars, wheat, red meat, and dairy products be cut down or eliminated from the diet in order to improve arthritic conditions.
Osteopathy is a skill using expert manipulation in treating pain by correcting bone and joint problems. It is generally accepted by mainstream medicine and is based on the belief that the spine is the source of good health. When the spine is out of alignment, other physical problems develop. Osteopathy is similar to chiropractic in that they treat identical conditions using similar techniques, but there are some differences. Chiropractics uses x-rays extensively while osteopaths do not. Osteopaths also do more soft-tissue manipulation than chiropractics. In addition, they also mobilize joints by traction or articulation, putting the joints through a full range of passive movement, something not usually practiced by chiropractics. Osteopathy is more suitable for osteoarthritis but less so for rheumatoid arthritis.
Psychotherapy is essentially a “talking cure” that is divided into three types: supportive, exploratory, and specialized. Supportive is the simplest and least intrusive with the client simply talking about personal problems and developing an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality. Exploratory therapy encourages the client to explore the problem rather than merely voicing it. The therapist will periodically intervene to point out inconsistencies, evasions, and neglected aspects of an issue which is designed to help the person recognize causes and solutions to a problem. Specialized therapy involves behavioral psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis, gestalt, psychodrama, and many other forms of therapies involving specialized intervention. The form that is most suitable for the arthritic is cognitive, which can loosely be described as “positive thinking.” It is likely one of the most powerful tools in fighting chronic pain and for coping with disability and immobility.
Reflexology is becoming more popular as a means to boost energy levels, promote a sense of well-being, and alleviate pain. Its foundational beliefs are similar to that of acupressure and acupuncture in that the life force (qi or chi) flows through the body along energy channels. The essential difference is that in reflexology, the terminal points of the energy channels lie in the feet and hands while in acupuncture, they are all over the body. Tension or congestion in any part of the body is mirrored in the corresponding reflex areas on the feet and hands. By applying controlled pressure to these areas in a precise and systematic way, the body is better able to achieve its own natural state of good health. One of the underlying theories is that our ancestors walked and ran virtually barefoot over uneven ground which constantly massaged and stimulated the nerve endings and reflex areas. Today, much time is spent sitting; but, when walking is done, we make sure we have well-cushioned shoes. Wearing high heels alters the joints of the feet all the way up the spine. This puts added strain on some areas while failing to stimulate others. Before long, there is a buildup of waste products in the body that is not eliminated, and disease results. While reflexology cannot cure arthritis, it can help alleviate the pain and raise energy levels.
Relaxation is a therapy that will not yield positive results in a day or even a week, but must be practiced for many weeks before relief from pain will be noticed. Holding stress and tension within the body for long periods of time sets it up for many adverse physical reactions. By learning specific breathing techniques and listening to calming music, a person will begin to relax and, in time, see his pain decrease and his overall physical and mental health improve.
Self-hypnosi is a form of deep relaxation as opposed to a trance-like state. The point of a deeply relaxed state is for the person to be able to give instructions to himself that the mind and body will obey. It is a method that has proven somewhat successful in reducing chronic pain that was not alleviated by medication or surgery.
Shiatsu is a Japanese word that literally means “finger pressure.” However, the shiatsu practitioner not only uses fingers but also hands, thumbs, elbows, and even knees or feet to achieve the desired depth and strength of massage. The pressure provided should produce a sensation somewhere between pain and pleasure. The system bears some similarities to acupressure as both are based on pressure points along meridian lines associated with the function of vital organs. As in acupuncture, the shiatsu therapist will take the six pulses at each wrist. Each is associated with a vital organ in the body and by taking the pulses, the practitioner will be better able to diagnose and treat many different conditions. Arthritis sufferers may also benefit from a related technique known as “do-in,” which is literally translated to mean “self-stimulation.” This is a form of self-acupressure of muscles and points, as well as movement, stretching, and breathing exercises.
T’ai chi (or t’ai qi) increases oxygen flow to the blood and the joints of the body, especially the knees, alleviating the pain of inflammatory diseases. Relief from pain is an important concern for the arthritis sufferer and is just one of the benefits t’ai chi has to offer. T’ai chi has been simplified to just 24 movements, making it easier to adopt, helping to restore balance to the mind and body.
Visualization is a therapy developed in the 1960s by cancer specialists Carl and Stephanie Simonton as a means of shrinking cancer cells. Their success was carried over into healing other diseases, including arthritis. By picturing the painful and swollen joints as being whole and strong again, many sufferers found that they were able to reverse their condition. Once again, this works for some but not others and depends on the individual personality.
Yoga combines postures and breathing with meditation to enable energy to travel throughout the body. It is an ancient system of breathing movements and postures that, not only brings tranquillity of body and mind, but also enhances the flexibility of the spine, releasing muscular tension, and increasing the circulation to the organs and glands. Although there are many different forms of yoga, each has its own particular emphasis. For example, Hatha yoga concentrates on postures and movements that encourage the body to stretch and tone. Kundalini yoga concentrates on the spinal column, strengthening and balancing the nervous system. Pranayama yoga focuses on breathing and strengthening and balancing the respiratory system. Yoga can realign or even prevent spinal misalignments. It reverses the effects of gravity’s downward pull on the vital organs and glands in the body. Such inversion exercises as the shoulder stand increase the blood supply to organs and glands. Other postures stimulate the kidneys, liver, stomach, colon, and pancrease to promote cleansing and purification. However, for the arthritic, the following positions can be used to start with before attempting more strenuous moves. All this is dependendant on the range of motion for each joint.
- Supported leg raises: These provide a gentle stretch and are ideal for relieving stiffness. Lie on your back and stretch your legs up against a wall. Stretch your arms above your head and keep the spine stretched. Hold for as long as comfortable.
- Corpse pose: This aids in complete relaxation of the mind and body. Lie on your back with your legs and arms straight but not tense. Rest your head on a folded towel or blanket. Take a few deep gentle breaths, then let your breathing become slow and even. Stay in this position for at least 15 minutes.
- Supported corpse pose: This is particularly restful for the back. Lie on your back with your head resting on a folded towel. Support your legs, bent at the knees, on a level chair or stool. Breathe evenly, and rest in this position for several minutes.
- Seated pose: Sit with your legs out straight in front of you and your feet together. Support yourself with your hands and arch your spine.
- Raised arms: Stand in a relaxed position with your feet together, knees slightly bent, and hands at your sides. With your shoulders relaxed, raise your arms above your head as you breathe in. Hold for as long as comfortable.
- Basic standing posture: Keep a relaxed stance and breathe into the abdomen. Let the shoulders relax. Bring the neck, back, and hips forward to maintain a straight spine. Your weight should be centered on the balls of your feet.