Arthritis can feel like an inescapable prison. Naturopath Caroline Robertson shows you how to break free from pain and regain your life with a smart escape plan.
If you have arthritis, you're not alone: one in five Australians experience arthritis due to autoimmune disease, biomechanics, injury, infection, inflammation, or depletion. Fortunately, arthritis isn't an inevitable aspect of ageing – it's preventable and treatable.
The main types of arthritis or inflamed joints are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and spondyloarthropathies, such as ankylosing spondylitis. Arthritis can strike at any age, and the severity varies greatly for each person through its different phases. Diagnostic tests may determine the best treatment and monitor the disease progression, but they don't always identify the issue or solution. Some people have crippling arthritis with normal tests and others have no pain but extreme abnormalities such as fused joints. Today's lifestyle seems to breed arthritis. Key contributors include obesity, less exercise, an acidic or deficient diet, poor posture, and dysfunctional movement. Addressing these factors greatly reduces one's chances of joining the arthritic army.
Author Paul Coelho said, “You can't avoid pain, but you can choose to overcome it.” Rather than be resigned to arthritis, take it as a call to change. The following six steps, forming the acronym RELIEF, assist all arthritic conditions.
Reset your mind
Address beliefs and behaviours contributing to arthritis by being aware and adaptable. According to Ayurvedic doctor Rama Prasad, the psychological cause of arthritis varies according to the area affected: “Belief builds our biology. A belief that we can't shoulder life's burdens leads to arthritic shoulders. Fear of moving forward speaks through arthritic hips. Disliking our work may manifest as arthritic hands.” Listen to your body's message and heed its needs. To uproot the mental origin of arthritis, examine your thoughts or respond to them with affirmative action.
Over decades of personal and professional experience, I've observed that arthritis is aggravated by feelings of stagnation, self-loathing, or stress. Write down what you feel stuck or stressed about. Then brainstorm a solution and take steps towards the resolution immediately. For example, a dentist client with crippling arthritis in his hands hated his job. During the consultation he revealed his desire to teach. After strategising an exit from his dental practice and entry into dental teaching, he felt a surge of excitement through his body. As he pursued his dreams, the crippling arthritis completely cleared.
There's an old saying, “If you want a guest to go away, don't feed them.” This applies to arthritis: starve it and it often subsides. Acidic, inflammatory foods – sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fatty acids, grains, red meat, sour foods like tamarind and alcohol – flare up arthritis. Nightshade foods (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant) also increase stiffness, due to their solanine content. Adjust eating to ease inflammation and support juicy joints. Plentiful pure water, minerals, alkaline foods, and essential fatty acids reduce the pain and degeneration associated with arthritis. Alkalise with green smoothies, alfalfa sprouts, spirulina, broccoli, kale, kelp or chlorella. Eat fish, flaxseed, and walnuts for essential fatty acids. Enjoy moderate celery, cherries, turmeric, papaya, and pineapple for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects.
Learn your remedies
Plant-derived painkillers are a healthier long-term option than pharmaceuticals, which ultimately undermine health. Though amazing for acute pain, drugs have side effects: cortisone weakens bones and muscles, ibuprofen increases acidity, paracetamol weakens the liver, and codeine causes constipation. Rapid relief and increased mobility without residual effects have been documented with natural Boswellia extract, Devil's claw, green-lipped mussel, krill oil, licorice, nettles, rosehip, turmeric, and white willow bark. A combination tailored for you by a naturopath or herbalist ensures you're taking a safe, effective dose. Supportive supplements to consider include magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, strontium citrate, MSM, glucosamine sulphate, and chondroitin. To inhibit inflammation and build tissue, try 1,500mg of glucosamine sulphate with 200mg of omega-3 and MSM, an organic sulphur. Some gain great relief from external application of castor oil, Ayurvedic dhanwantaram oil, Tiger Balm, or Deep Heat with capsaicin, menthol, and methyl salicylate.
There's a confusing array of arthritis therapies; everyone's body reacts differently to treatments. Some swear by acupuncture, Ayurvedic massage, Feldenkrais, osteopathy, reiki … the options are endless. Ideally, discuss your issues with a practitioner before booking a session to sense if they have the experience and expertise to assist you. The body needs time to respond to each treatment so don't give up without following the course, and avoid receiving too many therapies simultaneously. Ultimately, healing is in our own hands. Self-healing practices such as borax baths, green clay poultices, self-massage, aromatherapy, and creative pursuits enhance healing.
Exercise is essential for strength, stability, flexibility, and circulation. If we freeze with pain we never free up, losing it if we don't move it. Even when severely restricted, gentle joint rotations with a soft smile increase mobility. When experiencing extreme pain, exercising in a warm pool eases aches and supports our weight. A physiotherapist, Pilates instructor or yoga teacher can design a daily routine for individual needs. Other gentle exercises to assist arthritis include Qi Gong, Tai Chi, rebounding, walking, water aerobics, and gentle dance.
Harness the power of your mind to magnify pleasure in your life. Inhale into your pain with a soft smile and exhale out the mouth to release it. Concentrate on the pain-free areas of your body, on what you can do and what you enjoy. Give your body a gravity break with a serenity siesta after lunch. Guided meditations such as The Inner Smile and Yoga Nidra induce a centred calm that triggers true healing. As Joseph Campbell advised, “Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
Caroline Robertson is a Sydney-based writer and naturopath who has helped many clients overcome arthritis. www.carolinerobertson.com.au