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Fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis the Natural Way


Katrina Woznicki

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Tai Chi

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disorder that affects 1.5 million people, particularly those who are middle-aged and older. Medication is the traditional first-line therapy to relieve symptoms and slow RA progression. While there isn’t enough research strongly supporting a particular alternative remedy for preventing or managing RA, a great deal of evidence indicates that exercise may be your best bet. A number of small studies also show that tai chi and yoga, as well as meditation, may reduce the joint pain and swelling that comes with RA and improve overall quality of life. So what can you do to start feeling better today?

W. Hayes Wilson, MD, discusses the basics of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and treatment.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 16, 2015

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Go Slow, but Go

Scientists and physicians agree: Exercise is your body’s most natural pain reliever. In fact, not moving may make RA symptoms worse. Experts recommend going slow with any exercise regimen. They recommend building up to 30 minutes a day, or 150 minutes a week. Exercise will help you to improve your balance; alleviate stiffness; prevent cartilage damage in your hands, wrists, knees, and ankles; and regain some control over your well-being. You might just find that your mood improves, too!

Relieve Pain With Yoga

Yoga is a centuries-old practice developed in Asia. It involves breathing, meditation, and specific physical postures called asanas. Researchers recently explored whether yoga classes that include postures, breathing exercises, and meditation—taken two to three times per week—eased symptoms for RA patients. Class participants experienced greater reductions in stress, depression, pain, joint tenderness, and disability, compared with people who didn’t do yoga.

Physical and emotional stress can worsen RA symptoms. While researchers aren’t suggesting that yoga become the primary therapy for people with RA, it may help ease symptoms when used with other standard treatments.

Time for Tai Chi

Tai chi is considered a “joint-friendly” exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels. Like yoga, tai chi is an ancient practice that focuses on combining movement with mindfulness. Research has shown that people with RA who participated in tai chi classes twice a week for 12 weeks, experienced improved use of their lower limbs, greater confidence in movement and balance, and less stress and pain during daily life.

Fish Oil for Pain Relief?

You may have heard about fish oil for depression and heart disease, but what about for RA? A recent study found that people with early-stage RA who took daily fish oil capsules for one year, in addition to getting standard treatments, experienced fewer symptoms and didn’t need as much nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief. Herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna are all high in omega-3 fatty acids. These are also critical for brain health and blood flow.

More Meditation, Less Pain

Our brain has an amazing way of affecting how our bodies feel. That’s why many relaxation techniques, including mindful meditation, focus on changing our thoughts to change how we feel physically. Removing stress can help ease discomfort, boost energy, and improve our abilitiy to cope. Mindful meditation emphasizes deep breathing and removing negative thoughts.

Key Takeaways

  • Exercise may be your best bet for preventing or managing rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Go slow. Build up to 30 minutes a day to improve balance, alleviate stiffness, and prevent cartilage damage.

  • Try yoga and tai chi to reduce stress and pain.

  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation, to remove stress, ease discomfort, boost energy, and remove negative thoughts.

Was this helpful? (29)
Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 25, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Rheumatoid Arthritis: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
  2. Arthritis Related-Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Physical Activity for Arthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Handout on health: Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
  5. Exercise and Arthritis. American College of Rheumatology.

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