(NEW YORK) — An estimated 50 million Americans are living with arthritis, and while the pain, stiffness and joint deformities that often go along with it can be debilitating, medical experts say there are treatments that can bring relief to help sufferers live full and productive lives.
There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The most common types are osteoarthritis, caused by “wear and tear” on joints, and rheumatoid arthritis, caused when the body attacks its own tissues, leading to inflammation of the joints.
Along with commonly prescribed painkillers, surgeries and other medical interventions, there are also a number of complementary approaches specialists use that they say can decrease inflammation, reduce pain and promote overall health.
ABC News asked doctors who practice integrative medicine, a field focused on blending conventional medicine with complementary treatments, to weigh in on what options they recommend for arthritis.
“Certain anti-inflammatory ingredients can be incorporated into the diet, such as tumeric and ginger,” said Dr. Ashwin Mehta, medical director of integrative medicine at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “Ginger and tumeric are powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients we can recommend pretty much to anybody. They are very safe and have no potential medication interactions or complications.”
There have been few clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of ginger and tumeric on inflammation, but there are some laboratory data that suggest both can be helpful.
Other food additives are considered to have anti-inflammatory properties, such as garlic, cinnamon and soy.
Cutting back on refined sugars can also reduce inflammation, Mehta added. That dietary tip will help with all types of arthritis.
Although some people may believe having arthritis means doing exercise will cause further damage to the joints and others may find it too painful to be active, doctors stress that staying active is key to managing the symptoms of arthritis.
“Physical activity and exercise are very important, especially something like yoga that would target the joints,” said Mehta. “Yoga is a type of exercise that focuses on the nuts and bolts that hold everything else together, like the tendons and ligaments, and it’s designed for preventive joint health.”
Exercise can also help people lose weight, which is very effective at reducing joint inflammation, said Dr. Lawrence Taw, clinical professor at UCLA’s Center for East-West Medicine.
“For every person with arthritis, we recommend one nutritional or dietary change, one physical activity goal or exercise treatment and a mindfulness program of some kind,” Mehta said.
Mehta explained that a benefit of mindfulness programs is that they teach people how to relax, which can be especially helpful for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Acupuncture and Temperature Remedies
“Acupuncture has been found to be effective for osteoarthritis of the knee and hip as well as for rheumatoid arthritis, and a small study found it helps arthritis in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus,” Taw said.
On its website, the American College of Rheumatology explains that studies have found acupuncture to be effective at relieving pain related to osteoarthritis, and it may be that the needle contact with the skin is what causes the decreased pain. But they go on to say that acupuncture is safe in combination with conventional treatments.
And since symptoms of different types of arthritis may be triggered by the temperature or the weather, experts may recommend heat or cold therapy.
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