In my years of naturopathic medical practice, I have been struck by the number of people who suffer from arthritis. In fact, it is the most common cause of disability in North America. Too many of my patients are suffering from sleep issues, chronic pain and mobility issues because of arthritis. What concerns me about arthritis is the global affect it can have on a person’s health. We know that exercise is one of the key elements of achieving a long and productive life, so if arthritis is interfering with exercise the repercussions can be profound. I have seen many patients whose heart problems can be traced back to their weight gain and lack of exercise, which are both a direct result of the limitations imposed by arthritis. I have seen patients whose health is being compromised by pain-killing medications that provide short-term pain management but create long-term health problems.
Consequently, I have been on the quest for real solutions for people with arthritis pain. Also, my own 20-year-old ski injury has resulted in a knee showing signs of early arthritis. My motivation to find effective prevention and treatment of arthritis has led me to investigate a number of safe, non-toxic therapies that have proven very effective in relieving pain, increasing mobility and reducing the need for surgery.
The current treatment options typically presented to a patient by their medical doctor will include drug therapy and eventually surgery for knees, hips and some other joints. All the prescription medicines, while providing good short-term relief, have significant problems associated with long-term use. Aspirin causes gastric bleeding and ear problems, Tylenol (acetaminophen) can cause hepatitis at eight pills a day: ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen are not tolerated for long by most people before they cause digestive distress; the cox-2 inhibitors like Vioxx and Celebrex are dangerous for the heart; and many other pain killers are highly addictive and have their own problems.
Surgery of course has its own significant risks, including infection, adverse reactions to anesthetic, and surgical complications. There are typically long wait times, during which patients are left to suffer and take drugs that are not appropriate for long-term care. Also, since arthritis can affect any joint, including the spine, there are instances where surgery is not available. Many of the patients I see have degeneration in many spinal segments that cannot be adequately addressed through surgery.
I counsel my patients to employ a three-pronged approach to addressing arthritis.
- The first step is to support the proper functioning of the joint. That may mean chiropractic manipulation, stretching the joint, and most importantly, strengthening the joint by engaging the muscles around it. A weak joint needs the support of strong muscles, so as soon as possible, gentle strengthening exercises are recommended. For example, strengthening the muscles of the core abdominal region is essential to prevent and treat back pain.
- Secondly, I recommend low-level laser therapy. This is the one physical therapy that has been proven in numerous scientific studies to significantly reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis in a real and lasting manner. I have had many arthritic patients come to my clinic for laser therapy and they have consistently received significant pain relief. Arthritic hands have responded very well to laser therapy, as have arthritic knees, shoulders and spines. Recently, a patient of mine who was recommended to have ankle replacement surgery received laser therapy and is now functioning well and has declined surgery. A meta-analysis of 36 double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that laser therapy reduced pain and inflammation while increasing range of motion in osteoarthritis of the knee. Many more studies have shown similar results for osteoarthritis in other joints. The laser treatments are painless, have no side effects, and are reasonably priced. State of the art equipment, like the Meditech laser, enhances the effectiveness of laser therapy.
- The third aspect of treatment that I recommend is to take advantage of natural anti-inflammatory medicines. Examples include curcumin (extracted from turmeric), bromelain, serrapeptase, Kaprex, boswelia and more. Not only do they reduce inflammation and thus pain, this class of medicines all have side-benefits. For instance, curcumin (from turmeric) and bromelain are both cornerstones of the naturopathic medical approach to cancer treatment. Fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory if taken in larger doses like six to nine capsules per day. Fish oil has many other health benefits and I recommend it to all my patients.
Don’t let arthritis relegate you to a life on the couch. A full, rich life may be possible with a new approach to arthritis.