Osteoarthritis – Healing Through Natural Therapies
By Glenda Myers – USA
1. Personal Story
2. What is osteoarthritis?
3. Traditional approaches to treating osteoarthritis
4. Treating arthritis through natural therapies: Nutrition, Supplements, Spinal Correction, Massage Therapy and Exercise
In mid 2009, after giving birth via caesarean section to my second child, I began experiencing upper-lower back pain. The pain would come and go, but was worst at night, after spending my day lifting my children. I associated the pain with my recent delivery at first but, after a while, I started to wonder if it could be more.
I contacted a massage therapist and made an appointment for a deep tissue massage. The treatment was both stress relieving and relaxing. The back pain went away for about 3 weeks; however, it came back.
At this point, I remember seeing a chiropractor five years earlier for back pain and being treated well. I contacted this chiropractor once again. Upon viewing my x-rays (I also viewed them at the same time), we discovered osteoarthritis in the upper-lower region of my back. I could see the wearing down of the cartilage and the “junk” that was the arthritis and inflammation surrounding the joint. Being that it was a degenerative disease, I immediately felt despair. I was only 29 at the time, with two very young children. The osteoarthritis was associated with my many years of gymnastics as a teenager. I had several falls and injuries that I often overlooked. This “trauma” to my back eventually turned to inflammation and degeneration of my spine.
After leaving the office and planning to return the following day, I made a decision. It was time for a change. I did not want to be 40 years old and in complete pain every day. I wanted to be able to keep up with my children. I did not want to take pain medicine the way many people do these days. I decided to research natural therapies and alternative treatments for arthritis. Upon my research, I came across foods that can have an effect on the disease as well. One big trigger that I consumed each day was caffeine. I gave it up immediately. The withdrawal effects were rough, but gone in a day.
Returning to my chiropractor the following day, I told him that I was determined to make dietary changes and any other necessary changes in order for my body to heal in the most natural way possible.
Thus began my journey within the world of natural health. I discovered the power of foods and the effect on ailments and disease. I discovered how your spine affects each area of your body in different ways. I discovered how chiropractic care can improve circulation and nerve connections. I discovered how massage therapy releases toxins in order to flush them out of your system. I discovered so much more too! At this point, nearly a year later, I have no arthritis pain. I also do not have headaches, menstrual cramps, or constipation either. The list of my improved health goes on. I have embarked on a lifestyle change. I am now a different person. I also see things differently than others too. Many still do not understand the healing capabilities your body has, when given the right tools. I am still trying to convince my father not to take Ibuprofen each day, but old habits die hard. However, this road that I have chosen to follow will hopefully lead me to many success stories. I hope to guide others down similar paths of natural health.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Without getting too technical, osteoarthritis is simply a disorder of the joints in which the cartilage disintegrates and bone rubs on bone. In some people, the cartilage is completely worn away. Others, it is partly worn down. Regardless, the pressing of the bones creates pain and inflammation. It is the most common joint disease and affects mostly those who are older; however, it is seen in the younger generation, like mine. Often, when younger individuals have this disease, it is a result of trauma to the area, rather than wear and tear.
Traditional Approaches to Osteoarthritis
Suffering from osteoarthritis? See a doctor and be prescribed medicine for pain. Whether it is Tylenol or a more potent kind, all that will come out of pain medicine will be a blockage of pain. To some people, this is enough. They just want to go day to day without feeling those aches; however, over time, pain medicine’s effects can not only wear off, it can cause long term damage to the liver and dependency.
Others (myself included) want to get to the cause of the pain and put a stop to it. Although there are claims that there is no cure for osteoarthritis, getting to the root of the problem can at least slow down the progression of the disease. Some people have claimed that certain therapies have “cured” them, and more power to them. Traditional orthodox physicians will cast doubt on any food therapies, saying that there is not enough evidence out there to support the claims. In my opinion, many physicians do not carry specific knowledge on the positive effects of nutrition. They are not fully aware that many foods carry anti-inflammatory properties, while others can trigger inflammation. Aside from pain medicine, other doctors may “prescribe” rest. They may feel that by putting more pressure and movement on the joints, it can actually make the condition worse. The opposite is true. While high impact movement is not recommended, light to moderate exercises are beneficial to the joints.
Treating Osteoarthritis through Natural Therapies
Each individual responds to nutrition therapy differently. What may cause an allergic reaction in one may be harmless in another. Foods that are typically known to contain inflammatory components may not be an issue for some who have arthritis. It is all about finding out what your specific triggers are. The only way to do this is by the elimination diet.
An elimination diet is begun by giving up all possible trigger foods, such as wheat, dairy, meat, sugar, caffeine, etc. Have a diet that consists of fruits (no citrus), vegetables (no nightshades), and grains (no wheat). Drink plenty of distilled or filtered water or juices. After following these steps for a week, begin slowly introducing one possible trigger food at a time for a period of 3 days. If no reaction or pain, introduce another food.
In my specific case, the osteoarthritis was caused from trauma to the area, rather than a poor diet; however, I still improved my nutritional intake to slow down the disease. The first elimination I made was with caffeine. After much research, I found that caffeine can rob me of my essential nutrients needed to repair the damaged cartilage. Caffeine is also a stimulant, which like sugar, puts stress on the pancreas and other digestive organs. After this, I reduced my meat intake to 2-3 meals a week. The meat I eat is only pasture raised chicken (which contains no antibiotics or hormones) and wild caught fish. Meat, in general contains arachidonic acid, which can trigger inflammation. I have added an abundance of fruits and vegetables to my diet. My fruits and vegetables are primarily organic or grown on my own. They provide Vitamin C, which helps with the formation of healthy cartilage, Beta Carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant, helping to fight the free radicals.
Another important vitamin is Vitamin D, which helps with calcium absorption and bone structure, both needed for healthy joints. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are also important for those with Osteoarthritis. Omega 3 helps fight inflammation and encourages bone and cartilage building. One way to get Omega 3 is to eat fish; however, if limiting meat intake, flaxseed and walnuts offer Omega 3 fats.
Specific anti-inflammatory foods include: alfalfa, parsley, celery seed, ginger, walnuts, hot peppers, garlic, and fish. Specific antioxidant foods include: carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, raspberries, bananas, asparagus, cabbage, sunflower seeds, nuts, avocados, whole grain breads, tuna, oatmeal, and brown rice. Specific bioflavonoid foods include: berries, green tea, onions, cherries, and whole grains.
Sometimes we don’t always get the perfect diet every day. At the same time, our food quality isn’t what it used to be 50 years ago. This is when supplementation comes in.
Because osteoarthritis produces inflammation, which in turn, affects the immune system, it is important to supplement with an antioxidant, such as Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps prevent the capillary walls in the joints from breaking down. A good whole foods multivitamin, which contains Vitamin C, as well as other essential arthritis nutrients, may be the best choice. A multivitamin eliminates the confusion of all the specific vitamins and minerals needed to treat osteoarthritis. These specific vitamins that are helpful include: Vitamin A, B Complex, C, E, Zinc and selenium. Calcium and magnesium are also good for bone health.
Omega 3 supplements are helpful because of their anti-inflammatory properties. These supplements can be fish oil or flax oil. It is important to get a high quality fish/flax oil supplement to reduce the chances of rancidity. It is preferable to get a cold-pressed version of the oil, so that none of the oil has the chance to oxidize.
Glucosamine supplements can be helpful to some individuals as well. Glucosamine is a compound found naturally in the body, made from glucose and the amino acid glutamine. Glucosamine is needed in the formation and repair of cartilage and other body tissues.
After first discovering my osteoarthritis, I only saw a Chiropractor when I had back pain. Most people do this; however, when beginning my research on natural therapies, I found that spinal correction supports the health of the entire body. It not only relieves the “pain” that you’re having, it can also correct issues, such as digestive disorders, respiratory problems, and circulation issues. Our spine intertwines with our nerves. Each nerve goes to a different part of our body. If our spine is out of alignment, it can affect the nerve flow, which in turn, can affect the health of that specific area of the body. In other words, people who suffer from constipation may need their lower back corrected in order to have better bowel function. Another example is the vertebrae of the neck. One can be relieved of chronic headaches with a simple adjustment.
I find that getting spinal correction allows for me to support the health of my entire body, including the osteoarthritis. If I let a joint sit too long out of place, it will become sore. The re-alignment allows for proper blood and nutrient flow in between the joints. Increased blood flow to the affected joint allows for any waste/toxins to be removed, which in turn promotes cartilage repair.
Another holistic therapy approach to osteoarthritis is in the form of massage. Each month, I receive a deep tissue massage. The first reason for massage is to relieve stress and promote relaxation. The second reason is to release any toxic buildup within my muscles and tissues. The third reason is for improved circulation.
Since joint pain can cause surrounding muscles to be tense, the goal of massage therapy is to relieve that tension. Massage increases circulation and blood flow to the damaged joint, which decreases joint stiffness and just like spinal correction, promotes cartilage repair.
Exercise is one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis. It was once believed that one should rest the area that is affected; however, it is now known that exercise provides tremendous benefits for those who suffer joint pain.
Exercise, like spinal correction and massage therapy, promote good circulation of blood flow. The healthy blood flow provides the affected joints with the nutrients they needs to heal and repair themselves. The blood flow also pushes the damaging waste out of the cartilage. Exercise keeps the joints mobile, while remaining sedentary allows for the joints to stiffen.
Exercises such as walking and yoga are considered weight bearing. Weight bearing exercises help strengthen our bones and muscles. Yoga in particular, promotes muscle strengthening and flexibility. Our muscles surrounding the joints need to be strong to protect the bone from further damage. An arthritic spine is more prone to harm when it is surrounded by weak back muscles.
Those with osteoarthritis who are overweight benefit greatly from exercise. Weight loss takes the pressure off the joints. Moderate exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, and bike riding do not put impact on affected joints. These exercises are best for arthritis sufferers. High impact exercises, that include running and jumping should best be avoided since they may cause further damage to the affected joints.
A person does not have to “suffer” from osteoarthritis. Even those who have had the disease for years can still slow the progression by investing time in these natural therapies. To me, it offers peace of mind to know that I’m not taking pain medicine each day of my life.
When traveling the natural therapy road, one must know that they will not see overnight improvements to their health. A good 3 months of consistently using these therapies is what is recommended. For some, it may be longer, but in the long run, your body will rejoice in all the good health you are giving it.
Nutrition Almanac, 6th Edition. John D Kirschmann and Nutrition Search, Inc. 2007
The Arthritis Cure, Revised Edition. Jason Theodosakis, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., F.A.D.P.M., and Sheila Buff. 2004
This website delivers information on various forms of alternative medicine.
This website contains a large amount of information on healthy lifestyles, including emotional health, nutritional health, physical health, spiritual health, and more.
The Arthritis Foundation provides a vast amount of information regarding all types of arthritis and their treatments.