Integrative medicine approaches arthritis pain management using a combination of conventional Western medical treatments and alternative treatments.
Suggested alternative treatments often include acupuncture, manual manipulation, massage therapy, nutrition, and various forms of exercise, such as yoga. Conventional Western medical treatments (“Western medicine”) may include over-the-counter and prescription drugs, physical therapy, and surgeries.
Many alternative therapies are supported by clinical evidence. A few have insufficient or no clinical evidence, but might be considered as treatment options because they pose limited risks, few side effects, and overall health benefits at low or no cost.
Integrative medicine may be referred to by a variety of terms, such as complementary medicine or holistic medicine.
This article describes several integrative therapies commonly used for arthritis pain relief.
Combining Arthritis Treatments
Many people with arthritis pain find that a combination of treatments works best for them, and finding the right mix of treatments and therapies is often a process of trial and error.
Traditional medicine approaches include:
- Physical therapy that incorporates regular stretching and strengthening muscles to help support joints and reduce pain, and may be learned under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist.
- Weight loss to relieve pressure on joints.
- Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding high-impact sports and wearing supportive, comfortable footwear.
- Pain medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen, may also help relieve joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. (Patients taking daily aspirin therapy should consult a doctor before beginning alternative supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, as it may contribute to bleeding.)
When these traditional medicine practices are used alongside alternative medicine, it may be referred to as integrative medicine or complementary medicine.
For example, an integrative approach to managing arthritis pain and disability may include:
- Physical therapy and medication, as well as
- Dietary and nutrition changes, yoga, and massage therapy.
The optimal course of treatment will differ for each patient and may change over time. Regardless of the approach, any integrative care plan should be supervised and coordinated by a qualified medical professional.