Naturally Rockford: Seven tips for managing osteoarthritis naturally

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11757125647469.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of‘, ‘Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it most often affects in the knees, hips, spine and fingers. ‘);

BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—From a diminished quality of life, lost work productivity, and huge medical expenses, osteoarthritis can be a life-altering disease. With recent news that the common anti-inflammatory arthritis drugs can cause heart attacks, strokes, or aggravate high blood pressure, many people are left wondering what safe options are available to improve their overall joint health and keep them moving.

“There are many safe, natural substances available that have been proven beneficial in alleviating the pain, stiffness, and other symptoms associated with the many forms of this arthritis,” says Joseph Sweere, DC, a professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn. “Because of the over 100 classifications of this disease, it’s important for people to have their arthritis diagnosed by a health professional to fully understand their specific condition and to receive the appropriate treatment.”

The most common form is osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease in the weight-bearing joints of the lower spine, hips, hands, knees, feet and ankles, affecting 46 million people in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage and bones from previous injury and the wear and tear of life, resulting in pain, stiffness, inflammation and limited movement of joints.

Dr. Sweere suggests the following natural options to treat osteoarthritis effectively:

Proper nutrition. “Lost cartilage doesn’t self-recover, so having a diet high in calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D3 (cholecaciferol) and magnesium is important to increase the body’s overall functionality and range of motion. Antioxidants, including grapeseed, pomegranate and blueberry extracts also help. Fish oils, with omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in easing the pain of arthritis. Fish oil from Carlson Labs ( is best because it is one of the few labs that provides mercury-free products,” says Dr. Sweere.

Other natural products. “Many naturally occurring non-drug products have become readily available over the years, and have proved beneficial for some people to reduce arthritis inflammation,” says Dr. Sweere. These include chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, MSM (methyl sulflmethane) and SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine). Others include devil’s claw root, evening primrose oil, feverfew, flax oil and quercetin. “All can be found at your local health food store and are considered safe when one follows the directions on the label. However, glucosamine and chondroitin are best when taken together,” adds Dr. Sweere.

Pain-management therapies. “Many successful, popular therapies, including myofascial release therapy and the Graston Technique are practiced by chiropractors, physical therapists and occupational therapists to relieve pain related to joint, muscle and nerve disorders,” says Dr. Sweere. “Therapeutic massage and acupuncture are also safe and effective approaches to joint pain management. Consult with your health care provider to find the one best for you,” adds Dr. Sweere. Myofascial release therapy is a gentle, hands-on technique designed to release adhesions in the fascial system, a web of connective tissue that surrounds all the muscles. The Graston Technique involves manually applying stainless steel instruments to myofascial areas to relieve pain and increase range of motion.

Maintain a healthy weight. “Maintaining a normal body weight is a very important component to managing arthritis,” says Dr. Sweere. “The prevalence of osteoarthritis increases with more weight, which can wear down on the joints, allowing them to deteriorate more easily.”

Exercise. “Exercise and stretching programs can be beneficial for controlling arthritis symptoms,” explains Dr. Sweere. “Swimming is particularly beneficial because it allows for full-body movement without the stress of weight-bearing exercises while also aiding in weight management. Aquatherapy and hydrotherapy exercises are also helpful while in a swimming pool.”

Reduce stress. “Another important consideration for those with arthritis or joint inflammation is to reduce the amount of mechanical, environmental or chemical, and psychological stress in their lives,” says Dr. Sweere. “Mechanical stress involves reducing strain on the joints, which might include avoiding activities like unnecessary squatting or kneeling and high-impact sports or recreational activities. An example of chemical stress is smoke and tobacco, which lead to further degeneration of cartilage in our discs and in the spine. Psychological stress involves reducing prolonged states of anger, anxiety and fear that, in turn, depletes the body’s natural supply of cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory hormone that enables the body to protect the cartilage and lubrication system.”

Apply heat. “Applying moist heat to stiff, achy muscles and joints can ease arthritis pain, along with taking hot showers or whirlpool baths,” says Dr. Sweere. “Use caution when using heating pads and/or lamps, and remain awake and alert to avoid accidental overuse. Topical heat-producing anti-inflammatory ointments, creams, sprays and lotions containing capsicum (made from chili peppers) are highly effective.”

For additional resources about managing arthritis naturally, visit, a Web site focusing on natural approaches to health and wellness hosted by Northwestern Health Sciences University.

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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