Drug-Free Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Relief

Try these natural treatments for rheumatoid arthritis before you reach for the medicine bottle.

When rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain strikes, it’s tempting to head straight to the medicine cabinet for relief. And who could blame you? The joint pain and swelling, redness and bodily fatigue could sideline you from your daily activities for hours. 

While your doctor-prescribed medication is your best line of defense against RA pain, these natural treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can also help you get relief.  

  • Change your diet. Strengthen aching joints from the inside out by loading up on pain-reducing, anti-inflammatory foods. Some evidence suggests a rheumatoid arthritis diet with these types of foods—like avocados, olive oil, nuts and certain types of fish—has been shown to reduce pain and swelling, and the high antioxidant content of berries, beans and leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale can help protect joint tissue and reduce inflammation. On the flip side, try to steer clear of sugar, processed snacks and red meat. These are pro-inflammatory foods.  
  • Start moving. It sounds counterintuitive, but motion is actually great for your joints. Physical exercise helps not only to reduce joint pain, but it can also help to increase your mobility and range of motion. The right rheumatoid arthritis exercises also help to build protective muscle around joints made weaker by RA. The key is to go with low-impact workouts such as walking, swimming, yoga or weight training with light weights. They’ll keep you moving without putting too much strain on your joints or upping your risk for injury. It's also especially important to do stretching exercises to stay flexible. Just remember: listen to your body and scale back when you're having a flare-up or feel fatigued.  
  • Try these treatments. When your RA pain begins to flare up, you might want to give massage a try. When done correctly, massage can help to relax sore muscles and joints, and ease stress—a known trigger of RA pain. You could also opt for thermotherapy. Also known as hot and cold therapy, thermotherapy is an easy way to soothe sore joints. Heating pads, a warm bath with steam or hot towels are good options for warmth, and for cold therapy try ice or gel packs. 
  • Toss the pack. While it’s not news that smoking is terrible for your overall health, some research suggests that lighting up can play a significant role in causing an increase in painful RA symptoms like joint inflammation, swelling and tenderness. Studies have also shown that for people who don’t have the disease, cigarette smoking can increase their risk for developing it. 

Medically reviewed in April 2020. Updated in February 2021. 

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