Arthritis pain can be so unrelenting that you may be tempted to believe whacky treatments might declaw our pain—rattlesnake whiskey and WD-40 spring to mind. But you don’t have to dive off the deep-end to find natural remedies that can help. Here’s the rundown on remedies likely to work better than snake oil.
· Shed extra pounds. Nothing’s more natural than shifting your diet to less fat, less sugar, more vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. “People who lose just 10 to 20 pounds will decrease symptoms of knee osteoarthritis,” says rheumatologist Dr. Roy Altman, professor of medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles. “Every pound lost means six pounds less pressure on the knee.” Consult a dietitian or join a weight reduction group to get started.
· Exercise daily. Exercise helps you lose extra weight and also strengthens muscles that support joints and increase the flow of nutrients to cartilage, says Altman. According to a 2010 National Institute of Health Osteoarthritis Initiative, exercisers who walked, played darts or Frisbee, or did other light activities at least three times a week had the least amount of cartilage damage when compared to more strenuous exercisers who ran or skied. Altman recommends combining aerobic exercise like swimming or walking with strengthening exercises.
· Opt for acupuncture. A 2004 National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases study of 570 people with knee osteoarthritis—the largest to date–found that by week 14, people who had acupuncture treatments had a 40 percent decrease in pain and 40 percent improvement in function compared to the study’s start.
· Stay tuned for herbs. According to an Indian study presented at the 2011 Osteoarthritis Research Society International Meeting, certain extracts of curcumin, a chemical in the spice turmeric, combined with boswellia, or Indian frankincense were more effective than the anti-inflammatory celecoxib (Celebrex) in relieving pain and improving function. “The study has promise,” says Altman. “But it is only a study of 30 subjects who are relatively young, 18-50, so we don’t know a lot yet.”
· Try glucosamine/chondroitin. Crystalline glucosamine sulfate, not glucosamine chloride, appears to reduce pain and slow progression of osteoarthritis, says Altman. And chondroitin sulfate may do the same. “But there’s still continuing controversy about their value and little information on their combination,” he says. The only study looking at the two together, the 2006 GAIT study, found that only people with moderate to severe osteoarthritis got significant relief. The good news: The supplements aren’t harmful. If they haven’t reduced your pain after three months, says Altman, they’re not likely to.