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Complementary treatments for osteoarthritis

Lesley Dobson / 02 December 2015

Learn more about how some alternative and complementary therapies can give added pain relief for osteoarthritis.

Meditation and yoga may help relieve the pain of osteoarthritis
A recent study on mindfulness meditation found that it can relieve pain better than a placebo. Photo posed by model.

Before trying any of these therapies, always ask your GP or specialist team whether it is safe to do this, and whether it is likely to help you. Ask also, whether any of these therapies are available through the NHS in your area.

Related: Find out about lifestyle changes that may help people with osteoarthritis

Acupuncture for osteoarthritis

Acupuncture comes from an ancient Chinese way of practicing medicine.

Acupuncturists use fine needles, placed at specific points on your body, depending on what they are treating you for.

The needles are very thin, so you may feel a pinprick, and possibly tingling, but this treatment shouldn’t hurt you.

Your acupuncturist will leave the needles in for a while, depending on what they are treating you for.

Acupuncture appears to work by interfering with the pain messages sent from the source of the pain to your brain.

It does this by stimulating nerves under your skin and in your muscles. This then triggers the release of your body’s own pain-relievers, including endorphins and encephalins.

Scientific evidence shows that acupuncture may help reduce your pain levels.

Alexander Technique for osteoarthritis

The Alexander Technique teaches you to be more aware of your body, the position you hold it in, and how you move.

It aims to help you improve your posture, and the way you move, to relieve muscle tension, and to generally improve how you hold yourself.

The Alexander Technique may help to prevent lower back pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI).

There isn’t much published research on this, but according to Arthritis Research UK, many people report that it has been helpful for them.

Related: Learn more about the Alexander Technique

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT) for osteoarthritis

This is a talking therapy; where you talk about the difficulties you’re facing so that you can find ways of changing negative thoughts and feelings.

CBT helps you by teaching you to break your problems into smaller, more manageable parts. It has been found to be helpful for people with long-term health problems, including arthritis.

Massage for osteoarthritis

Most of us have had a massage at some time. It involves the massage therapist using their hands to stroke, and sometimes kneed your body to help relieve pain and stiffness.

Depending on your condition, the massage can be quite vigorous, and invigorating, or it can be gentle so that you feel sleepy and relaxed.

Studies have shown massage is a useful treatment for reducing stress, pain, and muscle tension.

Massage can relieve muscular tension and fatigue and may also be helpful for a number of other conditions, including anxiety, fibromyalgia, headaches and insomnia related to stress.

By relieving stress and muscle tension massage may also bring your pain levels down too. 

Make sure that you always use a professionally trained massage therapist.

Meditation for osteoarthritis

To meditate you concentrate on your breathing, or on a word or sound, known as a mantra, which you repeat to yourself.

Meditation helps to calm your mind, helps you relax, and helps you focus on what is happening around you, rather than troubles you have at home or with your health.

A recent study on mindfulness meditation found that it can relieve pain better than a placebo.

Related: Learn more about meditation

Relaxation for osteoarthritis

This isn’t just sitting in a chair; proper relaxation involves breathing deeply, while at the same time relaxing your muscles.

Meditation and yoga both involve working on your breathing and relaxation, so may be a good way to train your mind and body to relax.

You can also practice relaxation at home, using deep breathing techniques. These generally involve breathing in slowly through your nose, filling your lungs with air while counting to five. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth, counting to five again.

Yoga for osteoarthritis

Yoga helps boost both mental and physical wellbeing through slow controlled movements.

These are designed specifically to improve your breathing, balance, flexibility and strength.

Some research has found that yoga may reduce pain in people with knee osteoarthritis.

You don’t have to be fit to start yoga, and you can take it up at any age, although do check with your GP or specialist team first.

Related: Find out more about yoga's health benefits

Arthritis Research UK website


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.