Yes, You Can Treat Arthritis Naturally. Here's How To Decrease Inflammation & Pain
You probably know somebody, or many somebodies, living with osteoarthritis. Sometimes called a degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common chronic conditions of the joints, affecting millions of people across the globe. Like many, I once thought OA was something that came naturally with age, something you couldn’t do much about, that would require reliance on pain medications and would greatly affect quality of life.
After years of working with patients, I realized a few key things about OA: It’s made worse by inflammation that starts elsewhere in the body, stress and traumatic experiences have a large impact, and conventional treatments like surgery may not be your best option. Here’s why:
1. Surgery treats the symptoms, not the root cause.
While those suffering from inflammatory arthritis are treated by rheumatologists, people with OA are typically treated by an orthopedist. With their background as surgeons, they’re usually not very focused on or knowledgeable about options other than giving corticosteroid shots for pain management, writing prescriptions of physical therapy and pain medication, and ultimately suggesting surgery.
I’m here to tell you that, while surgery or corticosteroid shots are good temporary fixes for pain, they’re not an effective long-term solution. Many studies show there is no benefit from surgery and sometimes it causes more damage to the joints. Instead of temporarily relieving symptoms with invasive medications and surgeries, it’s time we looked at the full picture. We must get to the bottom of the disease to address the root causes and offer relief once and for all.
2. Nutrition programs can be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis.
We know that OA is a degenerative joint disease and that it’s made worse by inflammation elsewhere in the body, but there are other contributing factors, like lifestyle habits, stress, and obesity that play a part. Of all the people with osteoarthritis, only 5.1 percent of the cases are related to injury, while 24.6 percent are related to excess weight or obesity.
It’s important to nail down a consistent diet and exercise routine—one that fights inflammation, not fuels it. Studies have shown that those who eat a diet rich in nutrients and vitamins and low in animal fat and processed food and who are moderately physically active can increase lubrication and synovial fluid in the joints, which reduces the wear and tear on the cartilage.
In my new book, Healing Arthritis, I share a three-step guide to tackle the disease head-on—without medication. But to get you started, I want to share some of my guiding principles for choosing food as the first step to making a big change in your quality of life:
- Reduce refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and refined grains.
- Improve the quality of fat by removing refined oils and hydrogenated fats.
- Improve the quality of the animal protein you eat by choosing organic 100 percent grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and sustainably farmed, low-mercury fish.
- Increase fiber, macronutrients, and phytonutrients (substances found in plants that benefit human health) by eating more vegetables and fruits, and choose organic whenever possible.
- Limit salt, food dyes, and preservatives (which happens naturally when you limit processed foods).
- I am confident that an intensive anti-inflammatory food and supplement plan can be hugely beneficial for those who suffer from osteoarthritis, and nutrition education should be a key component of all treatment programs for OA.
3. Physical exercise can help reduce pain and improve function.
While many doctors may jump to surgery as a way to temporarily relieve the symptoms of OA, a functional plan can not only help reduce the pain but address the underlying causes of the disease. Research shows that people with osteoarthritis can and should exercise to reduce pain and improve joint function. Remember, motion is the lotion! I recommend exercises involving range of motion, or flexibility exercises, endurance or aerobic exercises, and strengthening exercises—each of which will play a role in improving your ability to move and function. Here are some ideas:
- Daily hamstring stretch for improved range of motion and flexibility
- Brisk walking for cardiovascular and immune benefits
- Swimming and water aerobics
- Strength training using your own body weight or light weights for resistance
- Tapping into mind-body-spirit exercises like yoga or tai chi
I've been treating arthritis for years and have found these suggestions to be extremely effective. Natural arthritis treatment is all about getting the body moving, eating to reduce inflammation, and finding the root cause of the symptoms—instead of just covering them up.
For more arthritis support, here are the best inflammation-fighting foods.
A true pioneer in functional medicine, Susan Blum, M.D., MPH is a nationally recognized clinician, speaker, author, and teacher. She currently lives in Port Chester, New York, and as the founder of Blum Health M.D. and author of Healing Arthritis and The Immune System Recovery Plan, is revolutionizing the lives of those with chronic illness. She received her master's in medicine from the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn, and her master's in public health and preventative medicine from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Blum is a member of the medical advisory board for The Dr. Oz Show and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and is on the board of directors for the True Health Initiative in the College of Lifestyle Medicine. She completed her internal medicine training at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and is board certified in preventive medicine, certified in functional medicine, is senior faculty with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.