• Jamie Sculley, ND

Natural Therapies for Reducing Pain and Inflammation in Osteoarthritis

Updated: Jan 23


I read a review of a study recently that looked at the benefits of blueberries for osteoarthritis. The results pointed to some benefit in those who used a blueberry powder twice per day for 4 months. The blueberry powder contained the equivalent of about 1 1/3 cup of blueberries per day. The participants reported less pain, stiffness and ability to do daily activities. Their gait and stride improved, allowing the participants to walk faster and take longer strides, possibly due to a reduction in pain.


The polyphenols and antioxidants in the blueberries are known to be natural anti-inflammatories. Other sources of healthy antioxidants come from green tea, red wine, cherries, citrus fruits, turmeric and red and blue colored fruits and vegetables.


If you'd like to know more about natural treatment options you can try to reduce pain and stiffness keep reading for diet, lifestyle and supplement options.



What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of arthritis where the cartilage that cushions your joints degrades over time resulting in pain, stiffness, joint cracking, and swelling. The weight bearing joints of the knees, hips and spine are usually affected but it can also affect the hands. Some people develop enlarged joints in their hands. Diagnosis is usually made based on symptoms and imaging.



Naturopathic treatment strategies for osteoarthritis


Weight loss - Many of the joints involved in OA are weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees so losing weight can take the pressure off these joints.


Exercise - Regular physical activity improves circulation and hydration to the joints. Joints are surrounded by tissue known as the joint capsule, which can be difficult to get fluid into so exercise is a great way to do this. Exercise can improve joint function, but don't go too far because overuse may reduce joint function. Opt for low load-bearing activities like swimming, walking, biking and tai chi. Added benefits of exercise include improved flexibility and muscle strength as well as aiding in weight loss.


Hydrotherapy - This involves using hot and cold water to relax muscle and move blood and lymph fluid into and out of the joint and surrounding tissue. It's easy to do and all you need are bowls of hot and cold water and some washcloths. Put a washcloth into each bowl. Start by applying the hot washcloth to the joint for 3 minutes, then switch to the cold washcloth for 30 seconds. Repeat this twice more for a total of three applications. End with the cold washcloth. You can do this a few times per day.


Healthy diet - As mentioned before, including anti-inflammatory antioxidants in the diet may be beneficial. Include colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans, plenty of water and limited alcohol and sugar. Eating a healthy diet can help with weight loss and keep blood sugar in check, which can help reduce overall inflammation.


Try natural joint support

  • Glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid - These compounds help to build cartilage, which may decrease with aging. Absorption of these may be low so you would need to give them a try for 3-6 months to see improvement.

  • Proteolytic enzymes - You may know enzymes for digestion but they can also be used for relieving pain and inflammation. Bromelain, from pineapple, is one that can be used in this way. If you're taking enzymes for pain relief, take them away from food so they have anti-inflammatory action instead of digestive benefits.

  • Botanicals - Turmeric, boswellia, and ginger are all herbs that act as anti-inflammatories, improve blood flow to the joint and aid in cartilage formation. One way to use turmeric is as a tea called golden milk. Mix 3 TB turmeric with 2 TB coconut oil over low heat for 3 minutes. Add your favorite milk (almond, coconut, hemp, etc.). You can add sweetener like honey or stevia if desired. Check for interactions before using any supplements because they may interact with medications you're already taking.

  • Vitamins A & E, zinc, and boron - These vitamins are required for cartilage formation, may slow down degradation and may promote cartilage repair.

  • Topical capsaicin cream - Capsaicin is what makes peppers spicy. It can be used in a cream and applied to the affected joint to relieve pain. Capsaicin stimulates the release of substance P, which we feel as pain, although there is no tissue damage going on. Your nerve cells have a limited supply of substance P so once they run out, you get a temporary reduction in pain. If you use capsaicin cream make sure to wash your hands well afterwards to avoid getting it in your eyes or mouth.



Summary

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of arthritis where the cartilage degrades resulting in pain, stiffness, joint cracking, and swelling. The joints that are most affected include the knees, hips, spine and hands. Diagnosis is usually made based on symptoms and imaging. Naturopathic treatment strategies include weight loss, exercise, hydrotherapy, a healthy anti-inflammatory diet, and joint support with glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid, vitamins and minerals, proteolytic enzymes, botanicals, and topical pain relievers.



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In health,

Dr. Jamie






This website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.



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Resources

“Osteoarthritis .” Textbook of Natural Medicine, by Joseph E. Pizzorno and Michael T. Murray, 4th ed., Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone, 2013, pp. 1651–1659.


Saunders, Paul Richard. “Blueberries for Knee Osteoarthritis: Another Clinical Indication?” Natural Medicine Journal, vol. 11, no. 8, Aug. 2019. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2019-08/blueberries-knee-osteoarthritis.

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