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Natural and complementary treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

Many complementary and natural treatments have been touted for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

However, the charity Arthritis Care points out that complementary therapies are designed to complement and work alongside conventional medicine and treatments, not to replace them.

Always seek medical advice before trying a complementary treatment in case it interferes with prescription medicines.

How are heat and cold used to relieve RA symptoms?

Many doctors recommend heat and/or cold treatments to reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Cold compresses reduce joint swelling and inflammation. You can apply a cool compress or ice pack to the affected joint during an RA flare-up to help ease inflammation and pain. However you don’t want to overdo cold treatments. Apply the cold compress for 15 minutes at a time with at least a 30-minute break in between treatments.

Heat compresses relax your muscles and stimulate blood flow.

To use heat therapy you can try a moist heating pad or a warm damp towel. Many people like using the microwavable hot packs. Don’t let it get too hot. Your skin should not burn.

You can also use heat therapy by standing in the shower. Letting the warm water hit the painful area on your body can help ease pain.

A whirlpool bath – or hydrotherapy - is a good way to relax stiff muscles in warm water - and it’s enjoyable. Caution: avoid whirlpools or spas if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or are pregnant.

Can magnets improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms?

Magnets are commonly said to be helpful complementary therapies for pain control. Found at most natural food stores, magnet therapies come in a variety of forms such as bracelets, necklaces, inserts, pads or discs.

Most research on magnets has been done in people with osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear type of arthritis commonly associated with ageing.

In people with osteoarthritis some preliminary studies have shown that magnets improved joint pain better than a placebo in people with knee or hip arthritis. Doctors do not understand exactly how magnets might relieve pain.

It’s unclear if magnets can also help those with rheumatoid arthritis.

What about mind/body therapies for rheumatoid arthritis?

Many studies have reviewed the use of mind/body therapies for pain. Mind/body therapies may be helpful when added to conventional treatments.

Mind/body therapies may help with stress management. They can help improve sleep and pain perception.

Deep abdominal breathing: Taking deep slow breaths from the abdomen (not the chest) can help alter your emotional state. Deep breathing can make a stressful moment lessen in intensity. With deep breathing you can decrease stress hormones. Deep breathing also helps slow your heartbeat during stressful moments.

Progressive muscle relaxation: Concentrating on different muscle groups, contract then relax all of the major muscle groups in the body. Start with your head, neck and arms. Then contract and relax your chest, back and stomach. Finish by doing your pelvis, legs and feet. Along with muscle relaxation, use deep breathing. Breathe in while tensing the muscles. Breathe out or exhale while relaxing the muscles.

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