My close friend and neighbor, Karen suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. When describing her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, it’s not a figure of speech: sometimes it’s all she can do to get out of bed in the morning. As soon as she tries to move she can tell if this is going to be a stiff morning, with sharp pains any time she tries to lift her arm. Sure, the stiffness loosens the more she moves, but first she has to start moving, and that can be a struggle. She’s lived with RA for a long time, and tried many remedies. Click Here to skip right down to the Natural Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis
She’s not the only one, either. In the United States alone, 1.3 million suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis. Also, a 2000 study in the United Kingdom showed that 90% of patients with struggled with morning stiffness.
Even remission didn’t necessarily provide any relief, with 80% of patients in remission still waking up to stiff joints and difficulty moving. That’s the thing about RA. There’s more to it than the bad flare-ups and the easier days. It affects every part of her life, from the moment she wakes up.
According to the Arthritis Foundation: “Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system – which normally protects its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints.”
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms:
It works like this: our joints are surrounded by a thin protective tissue called synovium. In addition to protecting the joint, the synovium has the job of keeping the joints loose and comfortable by the secretion of a fluid lubricant. When your confused immune system attacks the joints, the equally confused synovium thickens and swells.
All that inner turmoil adds up to one big flare-up. This shouldn’t be confused with osteoarthritis, which is most common in people over the age of 65 as their bones start to wear down. You don’t have to be a senior to be affected by RA, and in fact, the largest group of Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers tends to be women between the ages of 30 and 60. My neighbor is 48 now, and she’s been living with it since she was my age. The Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis can be severe and usually affects the wrists, ankles, elbows, or knees (you know...the joints that you use most frequently), but can be found in any synovial joint.
Living with RA: Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
But let's get down to it, what actually are the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis? Honestly, it depends on the day. The most common symptoms of RA are:
- Joint pain
- Loss of range of motion; and of course
- Morning stiffness
Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms come and go in flares that can be mild or debilitating depending on the patient or simply how confused your immune system might be on a particular day. Symptoms usually appear slowly...so slowly that you might not immediately recognize them as symptoms. “That was a problem for me for the first few years after I was diagnosed,” Karen explained. “At first, I just feel...off. A little tired, a little unfocused, like I slept funny.” She explained that next, she experienced sharp, stabbing pains and pinches in her elbows. Generally, it’s pretty mild and not too disruptive.
But then there are flares, which at its peak makes it hard to focus on anything but the pain. “I don’t want to move or eat. I have trouble sleeping. I lash out at the people who care about me.” Karen admitted. At times, the pain bleeds into every aspect of her life. Finally, it peters out, usually with treatment. Oh, the joys of living with chronic pain...but don’t worry, there is hope!
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment: Natural Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis
As of today, there’s no cure for RA, but there are many drug-related as well as natural options that can be used for rheumatoid arthritis treatment. As with any pain, painkillers, steroids, and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be prescribed to reduce swelling, while DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) can be prescribed with the intent of suppressing inflammation before the painkillers are needed. For those who don’t trust, or want to start with drugs though, there are natural anti-inflammatory remedies in the form of gels and lotions that can be just as effective.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment #1: Arnica Gel/Cream: Arnica gels and creams are mainly advertised for treatment of one type of pain: inflammatory pain. I asked my neighbor if she had ever tried these to reduce her Rheumatoid Arthritis. She said that she did, but that after a while, she didn’t notice much of a difference. After a little research, it turns out that while the arnica plant itself may very well have some medicinal properties, arnica gels and creams sold on the market are so diluted, it is highly unlikely that the main ingredient ever penetrates the skin far enough to make a difference. Fortunately, it isn’t the only topical option.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment #2: Bengay pain relieving cream: Bengay arthritis cream contains salicylates, camphor, and menthol. It has both cooling, and warming effects that can be ideal for rheumatoid arthritis treatment.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment #3: Icy Hot vanishing gel: Icy Hot also contains menthol and salicylates. It first provides a cooling sensation followed by a warming heat, which can feel nice when suffering the rheumatoid arthritis symptoms like swelling. Icy Hot is a vanishing gel, so the scent disappears quickly. In this case, if you aren’t a fan of the menthol smell, this is a good choice.
Karen has tried both Icy Hot gels and Bengay cream. “Do they work?” I asked. “Well, they may not take away the pain 100%, but I still like them.” Whether they truly soak in deeply enough to reduce the inflammation, the cooling and warming feelings feel nice enough on her skin to provide her a better sensation to focus on over the pain.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment #2: Hot/Warm Packs: The above creams and gels, used with a combination of heat and cold treatments, are a great combination for times when flare ups are their worst. It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps my neighbor feel like she’s treating her symptoms rather than simply at their mercy.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment #3: Fish Oil / Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Personally, I swear by fish oil for my own health and to help treat inflammation in my knees after running, so when I recommended it for Karen over a year ago, she began taking it right away - and now she shared with me that it has been a huge help.
Fish oil creates two omega-3 fatty acids, which for Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers is able to reduce inflammation drastically. Karen takes Omega 3 fish oil supplements once a day, and while she might still have to deal with morning stiffness, it’s much less of a problem than it was before she started taking them. In fact, these omega-3 fatty acids are so effective that a 2016 study found that they reduced the need for DMARDs.Omega-3s can help with all kinds of joint health or joint pain issues (as well as heart health and even mental health conditions like depression), but for Rheumatoid Arthritis patients, those but for Omega 3’s fatty acids are especially important.
Omega 3 for Arthritis
Which is the Best Fish Oil Supplement...? I won’t go into my own preferences here, because Rheumatoid Arthritis is its own issue and different fish oil supplements might be more effective for it than others. Instead, I’ll relate her experiences.
Karen shared that she started with the one at our local drugstore, Spring Valley Triple Strength Fish Oil. She had read about Omega-3’s impact on the pain of RA and was hopeful, but sadly, didn’t notice much of a difference with this supplement. After she finished that bottle, she tried The Vitamin Shoppe Omega-3 Fish Oil. This one offered a difference in the pain, but there was an unpleasant aftertaste. Eventually, she had to take them in the evening to mask the aftertaste with food.
She continued researching other brands online, however, and about 3 months ago, switched to the same brand I’m currently using now myself, the OmegaXL brand. Omega XL is a popular choice for those living with Rheumatoid Arthritis because it’s so potent and relies heavily on EPA and DHA, the chemicals Omega 3’s fatty acids release. It’s made from the green-shelled mussel in New Zealand, but if you have a seafood allergy, don’t worry. They extract all the proteins and carbs you need to reduce inflammation without all of the extra elements that might give you a swelling problem of a different kind.
It’s true what they say: when you wake up with morning stiffness, the best way to get rid of it is to start moving, no matter how much that hurts. But natural remedies like omega-3 supplements or anti-inflammatory lotions can help treat inflammation and lessen your chances of waking up with even worse morning stiffness the next day. In short, a fish oil dosage a day keeps the stiffness away and helps Karen get out of bed in the morning. (And me too on days after long runs!)
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment #4: Exercise/Movement, Fun & Companionship
Almost every doctor will recommend physical therapy and exercise--keeping the joint moving is the best way to keep the swelling down after all. Karen and I try to indulge in walks around the neighborhood as often as possible, she also loves hiking.
...There are some days when Karen can’t go as far, but getting out, getting her muscles stretched and breathing the fresh air puts her in a better mood, and helps her pain, as well.
“I also always take along my Australian Shepherd, Charlie, so he can have his much-needed exercise as well. When possible, I invite along my husband or a girlfriend. It’s a great way to spend time together - believe me, happiness, companionship and laughter are the absolute best remedies for pain - and cannot be bought at a drugstore.” Karen said.
So what do you love to do? What are your hobbies and interests...especially ones that will get you out of the house and/or moving more…? Share with us in the comments or on social!
While you may want to try some of the recommended treatments above, I also highly suggest making a list of hobbies, interests and other activities that you can add into your schedule to keep both your mind and body active. After all, 90% of the battle against pain is mental. And hopefully some of the natural remedies and suggestions above can also help you with the other 10%.