Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that usually affects the lining of smaller joints like fingers and toes. With time, it can even affect the knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. Eventually, it can result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2007, there were about 1.5 million Americans suffering from this disease.
It is more common in women than men. It is usually diagnosed in people over age 40, however, younger adults and even children can have it.
Other risk factors include family history, environmental factors like smoking, exposure to silica mineral and chronic periodontal disease.
Also known as RA, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the membranes that surround the joints (synovium). It is not known what starts this process.
Symptoms of RA come and go. When the body tissues are inflamed, the disease is active and leads to symptoms including muscle and joint aches, swelling, morning stiffness, and fatigue. When the tissue inflammation subsides, the disease is inactive and symptoms go away.
There is no known cure for RA. However, medicines as well as many home remedies can ease the symptoms and provide relief.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for rheumatoid arthritis.
Regular exercise is one of the first steps you need to take to fight rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Exercise will help reduce fatigue, strengthen muscles and increase range of motion.
Plus, it will reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and help fight depression, which can plague anyone coping with RA.
Three types of exercise are very helpful:
Range-of-motion exercises should be done for at least 30 minutes daily.
Strengthening exercises should be done 2 or 3 times a week.
Endurance (cardio or aerobic) exercises should be done for at least 30 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week.
If needed, consult an expert about how to start an exercise program and which types of exercises to do and avoid.
2. Hot and Cold Compresses
Alternating hot and cold compresses can also help deal with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. While a hot compress will reduce pain by relaxing sore muscles and joints, a cold compress will dull the pain and reduce joint swelling and inflammation.
Wrap a hot water bag in a towel for the hot compress.
Wrap some ice cubes in a thin towel for the cold compress.
Place the hot compress on the affected area for about 3 minutes.
Remove it and immediately put the cold compress in its place for about 1 minute.
Repeat the process for 15 to 20 minutes a few times daily until you get relief.
You can also use these compresses separately.
Note: Avoid hot compresses if the affected area is red, hot and irritated. Do not use cold therapy if you have circulatory problems.
3. Fish Oil
Several studies show that fish oil also helps reduce joint pain and stiffness due to RA. Fish oil has omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and can help reduce pain. Also, fish oil helps protect against heart disease, which people with RA have a higher risk of developing.
Take up to 2.6 grams of fish oil (with at least 30% EPA/ DHA) twice daily.
Also include cold water fish, such as tuna and salmon, in your diet.
Note: Consult your doctor before taking fish oil supplements as they may interfere with certain medications.
To help fight RA symptoms, you can use turmeric. A study done in 2012 shows that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, contains potent anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties that work better than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Turmeric can prevent joint inflammation by blocking certain enzymes and cytokines that cause inflammation.
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder and boil it for another 10 minutes. Allow it to cool and drink it once or twice daily.
Alternatively, you can take 500 to 1,000 mg turmeric capsules 3 times per day. Consult your doctor first.
Also add turmeric powder in your daily cooking for additional benefits.
Note: Avoid high doses of turmeric as it can act as a blood thinner and cause stomach upset.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is also very effective in providing relief from many of the symptoms of RA. Being rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, it helps reduce pain and inflammation.
Add 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon of honey to 1/2 cup of warm water. Drink it once daily.
You can also apply some apple cider vinegar to the affected area. Next, massage warm castor oil onto the affected area. Finally, wrap the area with a cotton cloth and cover it with plastic. Do this daily before going to bed.
Due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties, garlic is also recommended for treating RA. Garlic inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory substances known as cytokines, which helps reduce pain and swelling.
Also, it inhibits the formation of free radicals that can cause joint damage and promotes a healthy immune system. For rheumatoid arthritis patients, raw and fresh garlic is recommended.
Eat 1 to 2 raw garlic cloves daily.
You can also take garlic capsules. For correct dosage, consult your doctor.
7. Epsom Salt
Epsom salt is also considered a good remedy to ease rheumatoid arthritis pain and swelling. Being a good source of magnesium, Epsom salt regulates the pH levels in the body. This in turn reduces the stiffness, inflammation and pain in the joints. Also, it helps in bone mineralization.
Add 2 cups of Epsom salt to a bathtub of warm water.
Soak in this warm bath for 30 minutes.
Do this up to 3 times each week.
In Ayurvedic as well as naturopathy, ginger has been used for ages to treat inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Gingerol, a compound in ginger, has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce pain, inflammation and swelling.
Rub some ginger oil on the affected area. Then expose the area to sun for 5 to 10 minutes to generate warmth and heat. Do this on regular basis.
Chew some fresh ginger slices daily.
Also add ginger in your foods or drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily.
When done properly, massage can relax stiff muscles and provide relief from pain due to rheumatoid arthritis. Massage will stimulate blood circulation, which is important to alleviate discomfort and inflammation.
Add 10 grams of camphor to 1 cup of mustard oil and heat it until the camphor dissolves completely. Allow the oil to cool and then use it to massage the affected area with gentle strokes.
You can also add a few drops of lavender oil to some warm olive oil and use it to massage the affected area with gentle strokes.
You can massage the affected area 2 or 3 times a day for a few minutes each time.
Note: Avoid massage if your joints and muscles feel too tender.
10. Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil, a kind of plant oil, can also help reduce pain and morning stiffness. This plant oil contains an essential fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid that helps reduce the intensity of several symptoms.
Take 540 mg to 2.8 g in divided doses daily. Consult your doctor for the correct dosage as this supplement can interfere with certain medications.
At least once a day, move the affected joints through their full range of motion. However, do not overdo or it may cause pain.
Avoid situations that are likely to strain the joints.
Learn to use your body parts in such a manner that reduces stress on the joints.
Use tools and devices to carry out daily tasks and activities easily.
Rest whenever you feel the need.
Avoid keeping the affected joints in the same position for too long.
While at work, make sure to take a short break every hour.
If you are overweight, losing weight will help the joints feel better.
Follow a healthy diet. Make sure to get enough vitamin D, vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Quit smoking to reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis complications.
Stop drinking as it may worsen your condition.
Keep a positive attitude and thoughts to distract your brain from feeling pain.
Join a laughter club to bolster the immune system and increase the ability to handle pain.
Eat a few canned, frozen or fresh cherries on a daily basis.
Take a warm bath or shower in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes before going to bed to enjoy sound sleep.
Drink 2 to 3 cups of green tea daily.
Techniques like hypnosis, guided imagery, deep breathing and muscle relaxation can all be used to control pain.
You can also try acupuncture to reduce pain and help your body relax.