Researchers have confirmed that complementary and alternative therapy (CAT) can help many arthritis patients manage their condition. Their results suggest that the majority of patients who used CAT plus prescribed medication believed they benefited from the alternative treatment.
The scientists published their findings in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing. The lead author is Professor Nada Alaaeddine of the University of St. Joseph in Beirut, Lebanon. The team studied 250 patients ages 20 to 90, according to Medical News Today. Around one in three suffered from osteoarthritis. The others had rheumatoid arthritis.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown, but experts consider it an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues, PubMed reports. Treatments in traditional medicine include anti-inflammatory drugs, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, antimalarial medications, corticosteroids, and biologic agents that control how the immune system works. Surgery is sometimes necessary for severe joint problems.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic. It develops when protective cartilage on the ends of bones wears away over the years. Patients typically use acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and narcotics for pain relief. Some undergo physical therapy, wear braces or shoe inserts, or receive training in managing chronic pain. Injections into the joints are also part of traditional medicine. Some individuals require surgery to realign bones or replace joints.
The Beirut scientists found that 23 percent of the patients used CATs in addition to prescribed drugs. Nearly two-thirds considered CAT beneficial, citing improved sleeping patterns and activity levels, plus lower pain intensity.
The CAT utilized most was herbal therapy (83 percent). Others included exercise (22 percent), massage (12 percent), acupuncture (3 percent), yoga and meditation (3 percent), and dietary supplements (3 percent). Twenty-four percent sought medical care for side effects that proved reversible. Surprisingly, 59 percent did not mention using CATs to their healthcare providers.
Before CAT use, 12 percent said they had no pain. Afterward, the number was 43 percent. The percentage of those who slept all night increased from 9 to 66 percent.
Prior to using CATs, 3 percent of patients said pain didn't limit them. Afterward, the figure rose to 12 percent. The percentage who reported that they could do all activities, but with pain, increased from 26 to 52 percent.
The researchers stressed that when considering CAT, patients should discuss the various therapies with their healthcare providers. This is important because of potential side effects and due to possible interactions between herbal products and prescription medications.
For the last 10 years, I have experienced significant pain from osteoarthritis but have successfully managed the illness. The physicians treating me continue to believe that alternative therapies help many arthritis patients. As a result, they have encouraged me to try massage, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and certain dietary supplements along with traditional medical treatments.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.