Many people with arthritis want to treat their joint pain without the expense and potential side effects of medications. There are several natural ways to decrease pain and improve day-to-day living. Try one or a combination of these approaches and see what works for you.
1. Get moving
Exercise is frequently associated with a decrease in arthritis joint pain. 1 Fransen M, McConnell S, Bell M. Therapeutic exercise for people with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee. A systematic review. The Journal of rheumatology. 2002;29(8):1737–45. , 2 Busch AJ, Barber KA, Overend TJ, Peloso PM, Schachter CL. Exercise for treating fibromyalgia syndrome. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2007;(4):CD003786 10.1002/14651858.CD003786.pub2 , 3 Hurkmans E, van der Giesen FJ, Vliet Vlieland TP, Schoones J, Van den Ende EC. Dynamic exercise programs (aerobic capacity and/or muscle strength training) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2009;(4):CD006853 10.1002/14651858.CD006853.pub2 PubMed PMID: 19821388. , 4 Cuesta-Vargas AI, González-Sánchez M, Casuso-Holgado MJ. Effect on health-related quality of life of a multimodal physiotherapy program in patients with chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2013;11:19. Published 2013 Feb 16. doi:10.1186/1477-7525-11-19 , 5 Hurley M, Dickson K, Hallett R, et al. Exercise interventions and patient beliefs for people with hip, knee or hip and knee osteoarthritis: a mixed methods review. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;4(4):CD010842. Published 2018 Apr 17. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010842.pub2 Exercise may reduce pain because it strengthens muscles that support joints, triggers the body to produces endorphins that relieve pain, both, or something else.
What type of exercise you do depends on your current fitness level and other factors, such as where you live and whether you have access to a gym. Walking, pool exercise, and tai chi are considered gentle on joints and good for beginners.
2. Eat more fiber
Research suggests that people who eat high-fiber diets have less osteoarthritis pain. 6 Dai Z, Niu J, Zhang Y, Jacques P, Felson DT. Dietary intake of fibre and risk of knee osteoarthritis in two US prospective cohorts. Ann Rheum Dis. 2017;76(8):1411-1419. , 7 Dai Z, Lu N, Niu J, Felson DT, Zhang Y. Dietary Fiber Intake in Relation to Knee Pain Trajectory. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2017;69(9):1331-1339. Moreover, people who eat foods high in fiber produce lots of short-chain fatty acids, which can help foster a healthy balance of microbes in the digestive tract. An imbalance of microbes—a condition called gut dysbiosis—is associated with a higher risk of body-wide inflammation and inflammatory arthritic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. 8 Round JL, Mazmanian SK. The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease. Nat Rev Immunol. 2009;9(5):313-23. , 9 Maeda Y, Takeda K. Host–microbiota interactions in rheumatoid arthritis. Exp Mol Med. 2019;51(12):150. Published 2019 Dec 11. doi:10.1038/s12276-019-0283-6 , 10 Klingberg E, Magnusson MK, Strid H, et al. A distinct gut microbiota composition in patients with ankylosing spondylitis is associated with increased levels of fecal calprotectin. Arthritis Res Ther. 2019;21(1):248. Published 2019 Nov 27. doi:10.1186/s13075-019-2018-4
3. Warm-up aching joints
Applying heat to painful joints can ease your discomfort. It can increase blood flow to sore muscles, loosens stiff joints, and can distract the brain from pain. Try heat therapy using a:
- Hot water bottle
- Gel-filled pad that can be heated in the microwave
- Electric heating pad
- Hot bath
You can also buy a heat wrap, such as Thermacare, which can provide continuous, low-level heat for several hours while you go about your day.
4. Or cool down joints
Arthritis typically goes hand-in-hand with painful joint inflammation. Applying a cold compress to the skin over the affected joint can reduce painful inflammation. It also may slow nerve impulses, which can interrupt the pain signals. 11 Algafly AA, George KP. The effect of cryotherapy on nerve conduction velocity, pain threshold and pain tolerance. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41(6):365–369. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.031237
5. Cultivate relationships
People with chronic pain who have social networks tend to rate their pain lower and are less likely to report that pain interferes with their day-to-day activities. 12 Musich S, Wang SS, Slindee L, Kraemer S, Yeh CS. Association of Resilience and Social Networks with Pain Outcomes Among Older Adults. Popul Health Manag. 2019;22(6):511–521. doi:10.1089/pop.2018.0199 There are many ways to expand your social network—for example, you can join a book club, volunteer, or participate in a local support group for people with chronic pain. If leaving the house poses challenges, consider joining an online group where people with your condition can share experiences and offer support.
Visit our Back and Neck Pain Support Group to find advice and support from others with chronic pain.
Your body is designed for movement. Ironically, if you're not moving much because you're in pain, your inactivity can make the pain worse. Gentle stretches can help you maintain your mobility and range of motion—and keep pain at bay. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you find stretches and exercises that are appropriate for your unique situation.
7. Try turmeric
The turmeric root has been shown to have great anti-inflammatory properties and many people add turmeric powder to sauces, smoothies, or tea. But curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, only makes up about 3% of it, so experts often suggest that people take curcumin supplements in order to get an effective amount.
For many people, a daily curcumin supplement of 200 mg to 1,000 mg is okay. However, check with your primary health provider before taking any supplement to make sure it won’t interact with your current medications or put you at risk for other health conditions. Also, keep an eye out for supplements that contain preservatives or other additives, such as gluten, dairy, and soy.
8. Practice good sleep habits
Getting enough sleep is important for managing pain and promoting healing. Practice habits that help you get restful, adequate sleep. For example, make your bedroom quiet and dark, ban electronics from the bedroom, and establish a regular schedule for going to bed and getting up.
Meditation is a quick, simple, and free way to relax. One easy method: choose a sound that is pleasing to you but has no particular meaning, sit or lie somewhere comfortable, close your eyes, and repeat the sound in your mind. You can also try guided meditation, which involves a source giving you suggestions to guide your meditative thoughts. Many phone apps, online videos, and DVDs offer guided meditation.
Start with a few minutes of meditation per session. You may gradually lengthen your daily meditation time to 10, 20, or even 30 minutes.
10. Try acupuncture
It's not well understood how this ancient Chinese healing technique functions, but some people report it helps reduce their chronic pain.
While there is not a lot of high-quality research regarding acupuncture, the studies that do exist suggest acupuncture may work better than a placebo to treat:
- Knee and hip arthritis 13 Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(1):CD001977. , 14 Manheimer E, Cheng K, Wieland LS, et al. Acupuncture for hip osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;5(5):CD013010. Published 2018 May 5. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD013010
- Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) 15 Jung A, Shin BC, Lee MS, Sim H, Ernst E. Acupuncture for treating temporomandibular joint disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, sham-controlled trials. J Dent. 2011;39(5):341-350. Volume: 15 Issue 2: February 23, 2009. , 16 La touche R, Angulo-díaz-parreño S, De-la-hoz JL, et al. Effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of temporomandibular disorders of muscular origin: a systematic review of the last decade. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(1):107-12.
- Neck pain 17 Fu LM, Li JT, Wu WS. Randomized controlled trials of acupuncture for neck pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(2):133-45.
- Sciatica related back pain 18 Ji M, Wang X, Chen M, Shen Y, Zhang X, Yang J. The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:192808.
Acupuncture is generally regulated by states. A number of states require acupuncturists to pass examinations conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to become licensed acupuncture practitioners. As with any health care professional, asking in advance about the practitioner's experience and training is advised.
11. Enjoy a massage
Therapeutic massage can loosen your tight muscles, get your blood flowing, and calm your mind. A review of several small medical studies 19 Nelson NL, Churilla JR. Massage therapy for pain and function in patients with arthritis: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2017;96:665–672 found massage may help reduce pain in people who have osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, though results were mixed.
There are several great ways to reduce your joint pain that don’t involve medication. A natural treatment may reduce pain by a small amount, but when combined with other natural treatments, you may be able to cut your pain dramatically. Consider trying the ideas above, and ask your health care provider for other suggestions. The best treatments are ones that suit your lifestyle and that you can commit to in the long term.