Natural Remedies for Joint Pain

Herbs, supplements and healthy fats can help ease the pain of arthritis and get you moving again.

| September/October 2006

  • Natural Arthritis Remedies
    There is no cure for arthritis, but nature gives us potent medicine to help relieve the agony. It may even be possible to slow the disease and rebuild some of the damaged joint tissues.
    Photo By Fotolia

  • Natural Arthritis Remedies

Sloths may be slow, and bats may be blind, but those lucky species are the only backboned creatures on Earth that don’t suffer from arthritis pain. For all the rest of us bony folk, from hamsters to humans, arthritis is a plague, affecting 70 million adults in the United States and Canada alone. The more than 100 forms of arthritis afflict joints and associated support structures, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Osteoarthritis, the most common form, can cause crippling pains in the hands, knees, hips and spine. Other types, such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, gout, bursitis and tendonitis, produce inflammation and excruciating pain. There is no cure for arthritis, but luckily, nature gives us potent medicine to help relieve the agony. It may even be possible to slow the disease and rebuild some of the damaged joint tissues, all with the power of herbs.

Rub On a Little Pain Relief

Along with putting the hot in your jalapeños, capsaicin, extracted from chile peppers, is one of the finest topical pain relievers. Creams containing just 0.025 percent of this spicy stuff help desensitize joints to mild pain from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other types of arthritis. Applied three or four times daily, relief should come within days or weeks. Unfortunately, about half of users suffer local irritation and cannot use capsaicin. If you experience skin irritation, discontinue use. After applying the cream, take care not to touch your eyes or any other sensitive areas.

Other good topical painkillers from nature include salicylates from willow bark; menthol from peppermint; eucalyptol from eucalyptus; bromelain from pineapple; helenalin from arnica; and the essential oils of clove and cinnamon (which should be diluted before applying directly to the skin). Several popular commercial products, such as Lakota, 024, Tiger Balm and Nutraflex, combine several of these extracts and are worth trying, as their combination of ingredients increases the likelihood of effectiveness. And recently, according to a 2005 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a new ingredient called Celadrin is turning up in creams. It is an anti- inflammatory fatty acid complex derived from ruminant fat.

Another traditional remedy is stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Although it seems somewhat counterintuitive, old-timers knew to swat their painful joints with the nettle’s prickly branches, as anti-inflammatory chemicals from the sharp hairs could reduce swelling within minutes. Personally, I would rather smooth on the leaf extract, found recently in a study from Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism to ease pain in an osteoarthritic thumb or index finger.

Massaging on topical painkillers stimulates blood flow to the joint area, bringing nutrients like collagen and antioxidants to aid repair. But massage gently, so as not to aggravate tender tissues.

Attack Inflammation with Useful Fats

Inflammation is the major pain instigator in many types of arthritis. It can occur in advanced osteoarthritis, but tends to flare up relentlessly in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus—conditions in which the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and ravages healthy tissues.

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