Arthritis can get in the way of life, interrupt sleep and stop you doing the things you enjoy most. So what’s the solution? Anti-inflammatories and painkillers are the mainstay of conventional arthritis treatment – with joint replacement if things get really severe. But all have their downsides, which is why researchers have been busy hunting for new answers. Here are some of the latest.
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy
Prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) has recently been linked to stomach bleeding and heart failure, so there’s been an urgent need for alternative forms of relief. Enter pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, where a wearable device with an electrically charged magnet delivers energy to the painful area.
In a new study published in the journal Rheumatology, on participants with osteoarthritis of the knee, 12 hours a day of PEMF over a month led to a significant reduction in pain. A third of patients were able to come off NSAIDs and other painkillers. PEMF even increased the pain threshold of patients, when measured a month after treatment.
The ActiPatch® Pain Relief device, which uses PEMF, is available for £22.99 at Boots, Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy. Or get a 7-day trial version for £4.95 at tryactipatch.co.uk.
Eat more pomegranates
More and more studies are suggesting that phytochemicals found in pomegranates can protect against osteoarthritis, far and away the most common form of the disease.
It’s thought that these substances prevent damage to chondrocytes, cells in cartilage that help to keep it healthy and stimulate its repair. Other research has indicated that pomegranate juice may also lessen bone loss, not only among osteoarthritis sufferers, but also in people with other types of arthritis and osteoporosis.
Pomegranate seeds, meanwhile, are rich in a compound called punicic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help to combat arthritis.
10 foods that are perfect for an arthritis diet
8 foods the help ease the pain of arthritis
Try a Mediterranean diet
The famous Mediterranean diet could be one of your best allies in the fight against osteoarthritis, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.
Commissioned by UK charity Arthritis Action, it revealed that participants who switched to eating plenty of veg, fruit, beans, wholegrains, olive oil and fish – and less red meat – over a 16-week period saw their inflammatory blood ‘biomarker’ decrease by almost half (47%), and a cartilage degradation marker’s reading by 8%.
They also showed improvements in knee flexibility and hip mobility, and lost weight. It’s the first study to examine the relationship between a Mediterranean diet and osteoarthritis.
10 healthy Mediterranean foods
Osteoarthritis: choosing a diet and avoiding bad foods
Take up tai chi
This Chinese martial art can help to reduce pain, fatigue and stiffness, and improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis.
A joint study by the University of Miami and the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, found that after six weeks of tai chi people with hip arthritis could walk further and were faster in the ‘timed get up and go’ test. This measures how long it takes to get up from a chair, walk three metres, walk back to the chair and sit down. A mixture of deep breathing and relaxation with slow, gentle movements, t’ai chi maintains and improves muscle strength and balance.
Find a trainer at taichiforlife.info or order the DVD Tai Chi for Arthritis, 12 lessons with Dr Paul Lam, who devised a tai chi programme for the Arthritis Foundation in America.
Read our guide to tai chi
Do what makes you happy
Fighting pain rather than accepting it can be counterproductive. That’s the conclusion of psychologist Professor Tamar Pincus of Royal Holloway College, University of London, who completed a study of an innovative new type of talking treatment. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) involves strategies such as refusing to let pain stop you doing what you want to do.
For example, instead of walking 200 yards for exercise – a chore – you could do something enjoyable such as taking the grandkids to a park 200 yards away. You may still feel pain, but doing something that matters to you can lessen its impact. Some physiotherapists offer ACT, so ask your GP to refer you. Or find a psychotherapist specialising in ACT at counselling-directory.org.uk.
Aching joints – what’s the cause?
The knee is one of the largest and most complicated joints in the body, so it’s not surprising that osteoarthritis here can be extremely debilitating. However, moderate physical activity helps to increase levels of glycosaminoglycan, a compound that helps to lubricate the joint and maintain cartilage elasticity.
Stationary cycling – aka spinning – has been found to be of particular benefit for those with mild-to-moderate symptoms who have become inactive because of pain. In a study at Northern Illinois University in the US, after just 12 weeks of attending a spin class participants showed a significant improvement in pain, as well as being able to do more everyday activities, compared with a control group.
Learn more about knee arthritis
Steroid injections for knee arthritis
Opt for wholegrains
Adding more fibre to your diet, especially from wholegrain cereals, could help prevent osteoarthritis of the knee, as well as easing pain. So says a new study, the first to scrutinize in detail the links between fibre intake and the development of pain over time in arthritic knees. Scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine followed some 5,000 men and women aged 45-79 years with, or at risk of, knee osteoarthritis, for eight years. Those who ate the most fibre had a 44% lower risk of experiencing severe knee pain and a 24% lower risk of moderate pain, compared with those who ate the least.
The magic number of grams to aim for? According to the researchers, it’s 25g (just under 1oz) of fibre a day (or more). Easy ways to boost your fibre intake include choosing a high-fibre breakfast cereal, and putting wholemeal bread, brown rice, pasta, bulgur, barley, potatoes in their skins, pulses, plenty of veg and fruit on the menu regularly.
Fibre: how much do you really need?
Resistance training in the water
Aquatic resistance training (using weights in water) can help boost cartilage health and osteoarthritis-linked pain, according to a recent Finnish study. A group of 87 post-menopausal women, aged 60 to 68 years, with knee pain and arthritic changes in their knees, were put through their paces in an hour’s intensive aquatic lower-limb resistance class, three times a week for four months. At the end of this time, the quality of cartilage in their knee joints had improved, as well as their heart health.
Aqua aerobics classes are on offer in many pools and gyms. Be sure to opt for one that includes a resistance section.
Find out more about how aqua aerobics can help your health
This is practised sitting in a chair or standing holding onto the chair for support. It can reduce pain, improve quality of life and help avoid the need for drug treatment for osteoarthritis, according to new US research. In the first study to examine the benefits of chair yoga for older osteoarthritis sufferers who find conventional standing exercise impossible, those who attended 45-minute chair yoga sessions twice a week for eight weeks experienced less pain.
What’s more, that pain interfered less with their lives. And that’s not all: the effects lasted a full three months after the programme finished.
Other benefits of chair yoga included lower levels of fatigue and faster walking speed.
10 gentle exercises to ease arthritis
Easy ways to get fit at home
A version of this article was first published in the June 2017 issue of Saga Magazine.
Subscribe today for just £29 for 12 issues...