The numbers are staggering…about one out of 100 Canadians has rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis ailments are now the leading cause of disability in Canada and since there is no cure, the focus is on controlling the symptoms to bring patients pain relief.
Although the symptoms can be different for each sufferer, the main characteristics are swelling, stiffness, pain, inflammation, and joint destruction. The inflammation and joint pain can begin in one area of the body and spread to another, until virtually all areas experience inflammation. For some people the joint pain can be crippling and the need for pain relief is overwhelming.
There are specific pain points that your doctor can detect in a simple examination. These pain points can help physicians determine whether or not you actually have rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the more common pain points are found in the hands, knees and ankles; however, pain points can also be in the back, hips, shoulders and elbows.
Coping with the inflammation and joint pain on a daily basis can be frustrating, but there are many different ways to address those pain points to gain some pain relief.
Exercise is one way to deal with the stiffness and joint pain that comes with rheumatoid arthritis. While the inflammation can make your joints feel hot and even itchy at times, the stiffness often leads to joint pain. More and more doctors are recommending Yoga for pain relief. In 1994 The British Journal of Rheumatology published a study that showed arthritis symptoms improved in patients who practiced yoga. They discovered that joint pain diminished, and inflammation levels decreased in those who took part in this eastern form of exercise. In some cases, patients found that their pain points were not as prevalent. The Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America conducted two studies in 2002 and came up with similar results. Those who took part in yoga on a regular basis gained relief from joint stiffness and joint pain.
Yoga is low-impact exercise so it does not put a lot of strain on the joints. It promotes strengthening and stretching of the body, and it supports relaxation. Yoga can also improve blood circulation to all those pain points, which relieves the joint pain and inflammation.
According to John Hopkins University, over 75 scientific trials have been published on yoga in medical journals; however, only a handful has looked specifically at RA. Since early reports indicate that yoga can help with stiffness, joint pain and inflammation, a number of new studies are currently underway to look at whether Yoga can really offer long term pain relief.
There are other forms of eastern style exercise, including t’ai chi and qigong that could also provide pain relief for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors also encourage patients to do as much walking as possible. It keeps the blood circulating to the pain points, prevents stiffness and has helps stave off joint pain.
Only a few studies have looked into how dietary changes can impact inflammation and joint pain caused by RA. Some Scandanavian countries have conducted research with positive results. In the late 70’s a study with patients fasting for 7 days followed by a lacto vegetarian diet for 9 weeks showed promising results. The majority of participants reported an improvement in their arthritis symptoms. In 1991 another study involving food elimination and a vegetarian diet came up with positive results. Close to 40 per cent of the patients experienced a reoccurrence of their worst RA symptoms when they reintroduced the foods that they eliminated from their diet. Those who could not stick to the diet reported that their pain relief was short lived.
Although early studies sound promising, doctors caution patients to be careful about experimenting with diets. Some dietary changes can in fact aggravate arthritis symptoms or other health related issues that you might have, causing more pain instead of pain relief.
When it comes to joint pain and inflammation, many RA patients have reported that avoiding the following food items has led to pain relief:
- Dairy products
- Refined sugars
- Strong spices
- Citrus fruit
Many sufferers have also said they have experienced pain relief from vitamins and herbs. We are all familiar with anti-inflammatory like Advil and Naproxen, but what about ginger. Recent studies indicate that ginger helps with inflammation. Used for centuries for its medical properties, according to researchers at the University of Miami Medical School, ginger is an alternative for pain relief that is worth trying. Cats Claw is another herb that many people with RA have tried and reported success with. They say it helps with inflammation and joint pain. Turmeric is another herb considered for fighting inflammation.
When patients want to avoid conventional medications, one of the first products they try is fish oil. The benefits are related to its fatty acid composition, rich in omega 3.
Vitamin E has also been linked to pain relief associated with rheumatoid arthritis; however, studies show that it doesn’t address the issue of inflammation and therefore is most effective if taken with other arthritis medication or holitistic remedies.
What works for one sufferer, may not work for another so the key is to not get discouraged if the first attempt at pain relief doesn’t pan out. Often times, it takes a combination of methods to attack pain points. Sometimes ointments and creams can help in combination with diet or exercise. There are RA patients who say acupuncture near their pain points, as well as mineral baths, and light massages helps.
There are many more options for pain relief that you are encouraged to explore with your doctor.