Does your body hurt, are your joints creaky, do you feel stiff like a board in the morning? You may have been diagnosed by your doctor (or yourself) with arthritis. Narrowly, the term arthritis means inflammation of the joints. Different forms of arthritis exist, such as osteoarthritis (the most common), autoimmune arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), metabolic types like gout, and infectious arthritis related to microorganisms attacking the tissues, a process that can be connected to tick-borne diseases like Lyme. They all look and feel somewhat differently but have in common that they cause you a lot of discomfort and can diminish your quality of life significantly.

Have you tried this?

Many sufferers will initially try to avoid the pain by reducing activities that aggravate it, but this is not a good longterm strategy and may even be counterproductive. Next up is the attempt to self-medicate with over-the-counter pain killers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), etc. I know numerous hikers and climbers who regularly pop ibuprofen to prevent or alleviate pain when they go out to recreate. Unfortunately, these medications can have serious side-effects, ranging from impairment of the gut flora to interference with tissue healing and even liver damage. They also tend to cover up symptoms rather than help you address the underlying issues.

I suspect you’re still reading this now because you’re curious about the bigger picture and things you yourself could do to prevent or heal arthritic pain and discomfort. While anti-inflammatory and other pain medications, including corticosteroids, can be important tools in some situations, in the long term you should seriously consider strategies that loosely fall into the category of lifestyle or natural medicine.

These strategies include nutrition therapy, appropriate supplementation, botanical medicine, acupuncture, bodywork, mindfulness, and a range of gentle therapeutic exercise approaches.

Food is medicine

One of the fundamental principles of a natural medicine approach to arthritis of any kind is the realization that systemic inflammation in the body is playing an outsized role. Inflammation can develop insidiously as the body’s response to poor nutrition—think the standard American diet (SAD)—and impaired detoxification and elimination. Our typical diet does not provide us with the nutrients and energy we truly need, and common constipation contributes to the retention of toxins, among other things.

I will tell you right off the cuff that healing from arthritis goes directly through your stomach. No longterm healing can be achieved without thoroughly assessing and addressing what’s going on in your gut. This is a complex process that can be challenging to figure out. You will benefit from working closely with a knowledgeable naturopathic practitioner. Nonetheless, you can get a head-start by eliminating processed foods and shifting to simple, organic ingredients. Also make sure that you’re not backed up and moving your bowels every day by increasing your consumption of dietary fiber, along with sufficient fluid intake.

Getting into the nitty-gritty

Once we’ve got your bases covered, we can integrate a range of different nutritional supplements and botanical therapies from Eastern and Western natural medicine traditions. Numerous herbs and spices are used across cultures to reduce pain and inflammation, improve gut health, and promote tissue healing. You may already know about turmeric and ginger, but there’s so much more that we can consider, depending on your individual health needs and constitution. This is an approach that should be tailored to you and the stage of healing you’re in, so don’t just take whatever your well-meaning neighbor or a Facebook friend is recommending (no disrespect!).

Naturally, as a doctor of Chinese medicine, I use acupuncture extensively with my patients who have arthritic pain. It is a superior and very safe approach to pain relief and can be combined with electro- and heat therapy or manual mobilization techniques. Yet, I will still urge my patients to follow my dietary and herbal therapy recommendations because I think this will give you the most bang for your buck—so to speak.

Things you can do everyday

Gentle exercises like tai chi, yoga, walking, biking, swimming, and moderate weight training can all improve your mobility and strength. Moving your body, even if it hurts a bit, improves circulation to the muscles and joints, helping to remove metabolic waste and bringing vital nutrients to these areas. Movement also improves your mood and reduces pain through natural endorphin production. Nowadays, no one in their right mind will still be claiming that pain is all in your head (meaning, you’re making it up), but it is well understood that, while the trigger of pain is often somewhere down in the body, the perception of pain does actually occur in the brain. Breathing and mindfulness practices can return a sense of control over your life and help you cope better with pain.

Lastly, don’t overlook the power of social support and surround yourself with loving positivity in your relationships. Giving and receiving are powerful practices to increase your sense of connection. Having a purpose and volunteering for a good cause can help you get back into the flow.

© 2020 Christiane Siebert