by Moshe Lewis MD, MPH
The average American takes 17 ibuprofen tablets in a month. People with arthritis may take that many in a single week. To many of the 40 million Americans with arthritis, over-the-counter painkillers often seem like the only way to hold on to a full and active lifestyle.
But there are natural, healthy, low-cost approaches to reducing painful inflammation. Arthritis relief is hiding in our pantries, our closets and our swimming pools. The following natural pain relief practices have fewer long-term harmful side effects than a pocket full of pills, and most of them are delicious, relaxing and even fun.
Feel the heat: Heat is perhaps the handiest way to reduce inflammation without a pill. Keeping your joints warm keeps your circulation strong, which is a great way to minimize muscle and joint inflammation. Hot showers, good insulation and a cozy sweater go a long way toward keeping joints supple and pain free. To combat intense pain in a large region such as the lower back, invest in a heating pad or splurge on a hot stone massage.
Add spice: If you like food with a kick, fighting arthritis can be delicious. Spicy foods, like hot temperatures, can keep your body’s circulation moving. Try capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their heat. It’s the main ingredient in at least one prescription pain relief patch, but it tastes good in chili, too. If your taste runs more toward cookies than cayenne, try ginger, which has been shown to be comparable to ibuprofen in reducing menstrual and muscle pain. Or there’s turmeric, cinnamon and even rosemary. All of these spices are available in capsule form, but why bypass their great taste? A diet rich in spices is an enjoyable way to keep inflammation at bay.
Defy gravity: When you have arthritis, gravity is an enemy, always trying to bring you down. It accelerates the wear on joints and makes it harder to do the kinds of basic exercises that keep joints safe. Eliminating the effects of body weight on joints can give you temporary pain relief and allow you to strengthen your joints gently. So go swimming! Consider joining a gym with a pool or, better yet, a spa – your knees will love the combination of heat and weightlessness. Try aqua therapy to gain some strength in a low-impact setting. The Arthritis Foundation offers therapeutic aquatics classes through many hospitals for nominal costs. Check arthritis.org for locations near you.
Move it: Arthritic joints are painful to move, especially when inflamed and stiff. Although moving is the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, motion actually will help to keep both the stiffness and the pain down. Continued movement by any means necessary is critical for the treatment of pain and stiffness in the mild and moderate stages of arthritis. Methodically increasing your walking tolerance under a doctor’s supervision to at least 30 minutes a day is crucial to extending your joints’ life.
Lighten up: Thanks to impact stress, we carry four times our own body weight through our knee joints. This means that every 10 pounds of extra weight is like strapping a bowling ball to each knee. Excessive weight puts significant pressure through our hips, knees and ankles when we run, squat and climb stairs, causing pain and accelerating arthritis in the process. Imagine how much healthier your joints will be if you can stay close to your ideal body weight.
Thank cod: Omega-3 fatty acids are powerhouses of pain relief. The omega-3s in flax and alfalfa seeds produce prostaglandins, which are molecules that your body uses to reduce inflammation. Just 3 tablespoons a day will help your joints to feel their best. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is no mere seed. Cod liver oil is a tailor-made supplement for arthritis, because it combats both pain and joint degeneration. A recent study showed that 2 teaspoons of cod liver oil per day helped patients cut down on their pain medication by one-third. And as the word about cod gets out, it’s even easier to get a serving of this fighting fish oil. National retailers now stock items like fruit juice with an imperceptible serving of cod liver oil mixed in. It means your morning orange juice can now help you to fight pain as you greet the day.
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