Arthritis Self-Help

Complementary Therapies For Osteoarthritis


There has been a growing increase in the use of complementary therapies for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis or OA is a severe condition that has contributed to most cases of disability we have in the world today. This sickness comes with pains in the joints, muscles, and other areas in the body. Like arthritis, osteoarthritis can lead to weakness, fatigue, fever, stiffness, and inflammation. This is why treatment against this condition is often directed at reducing pain in the joint and other related areas in the body.

While medical and home remedies can be very effective for the treatment of this sickness, some complementary therapies are very effective. These complementary therapies are also without any adverse side effects like some medical treatments such as analgesic medications. The complementary therapies examined in this article include acupuncture, massage, yoga, and Tai Chi.

Tai Chi Therapy

Tai Chi is a Chinese mind-body exercise used to promote overall body wellness. The exercise is often done in a group-based format, and include meditation, gentle movement of the body, and deep breathing. Tai Chi class occurs two to three times a week, and each class lasts for one hour. The class often begins with warm-up exercises and gradually progress to deep breathing and meditation. After this, specific movements are practiced for a while, and the class is concluded with a directed cooldown.

Studies like the Wang et al., 2009 and Fransen, Nairn, Winstanley, Lam, & Edmonds, 2007 revealed that Osteoarthritis patients that practiced the group based Tai Chi program at least once in a week for a minimum of eight weeks record great success. The studies focused on the effect of Tai Chi on OA patients who practices this for 24-48 weeks. Most of the patients used for the study are adult women. The result shows significant improvement in quality life, reduced pain and stiffness in joints, reduced inflammatory conditions, reduce the fear of falling, and improved physical functions.

In another study that compares the effect of practicing Tai Chi and other related exercises for the treatment of OA, the result shows a significant reduction in joint pain and stiffness. This combination also helps to improve physical functioning and reduce depressive symptoms.

More importantly, there is no reported side effect of using Tai Chi as a complementary therapy for osteoarthritis. Hence, it is safe and can be administered to both adult and young males and females suffering from osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture Therapy

Acupuncture is a wellness therapy that originated from traditional Chinese society. It is also one of the complementary treatments administered on osteoarthritis patients. This therapy is practiced by professionals who are both certified and licensed to practice it.

Acupuncture includes the use of small thin needles to puncture some anatomical points in the body. This practice is usually carried out with or without electrical needle stimulation. The number of acupuncture per session ranges from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 8, and the duration of treatment is 2 to 26 weeks. The practice is believed to unblock natural energy pathways referred to as meridians.

Similar to acupuncture is another practice called acupressure. Acupressure is the use of pressure to unblock natural energy pathways. While acupuncture entails puncturing, acupressure does not include puncture.

On the effect of acupuncture on osteoarthritis, studies have revealed that acupuncture is an effective complementary therapy. Notable among these studies are Selfe & Taylor, 2008, Foster et al., 2007 and Manheimer et al., 2010. In the study by Manheimer et al., 2010. About 3,500 OA patients were taken on a consistent 11 times acupuncture therapy. The result reveals that acupuncture can significantly reduce the pains associated with osteoarthritis. Also, the treatment helps to improve physical function and body flexibility. On the risk of the therapy, Manheimer et al., 2010 revealed that the adverse effect is 0.05 per 10,000.

Therefore, acupuncture is a safe complementary therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Yoga Therapy

Yoga is a mind and body exercise used to promote mindfulness, relaxation, body strength, and overall body wellness. Yoga programs often include stretching, relaxation, deep breathing, and exercises. Some of the programs can be channeled at specific body postures and poses. Yoga is usually done in groups and handled by a certified coach.

There is two notable research on the effect of yoga on osteoarthritis: Garfinkel, Schumacher, Husain, Levy, & Reshetar, 1994 and Haaz, 2010. Garfinkel et al. ‘s study examined 17 patients suffering from hand OA and within the age of 52 to 79. The patients were split into different groups, where they undergo a specific Yoga class for eight weeks. The class lasted for 60 mins and is done once every week. After the eight weeks, the result reveals that all patients experience a significant reduction in hand joint pain. The patients also experience an overall reduction in hand tenderness and increased strength to engage in more activities.

Similarly, in the study conducted by Haas (2010), it was revealed that yoga is an effective therapy for osteoarthritis. Haas study was carried out on 75 patients with rheumatoid arthritis or OA within the age of 50-70. The class lasted for 60 mins and occurred twice a week. The patients were also advised to repeat the program once a week. After eight weeks, all the patients experienced a significant reduction in body and joint pains. The patients also experience increased body flexibility, reduced depression symptoms, and improved physical functions.

From the result, it can be inferred that yoga is a very effective complementary therapy for osteoarthritis.

Massage Therapy

Massage is a therapeutic practice that involves kneading, pressing, and rubbing the body. Massage also includes the manipulation of tender body muscles and the compression of specific natural energy pathways known as a meridian. This practice is done with the hand and fingers. There are different massaging techniques. The most common ones are neuromuscular massage, Swedish, and trigger-points.

Some studies on the effect of massage on osteoarthritis revealed that this therapy is very effective. The two notable studies on this are Perlman, Sabina, Williams, Njike, & Katz, 2006 and Yip & Tam, 2008. According to Perlman et al. (2006), 68 OA patients within the age of 50-80 were administered to eight weeks of massaging therapy. During the first four weeks, all patients underwent a one hour massage twice a week; then, the massage was reduced to once a week in the final four weeks. After eight weeks, the patients experienced a significant reduction in joint pain and stiffness. They also experience an increase in physical activities and overall body wellness.

A similar study was carried out by Yip & Tam, 2008. Massage therapy was administered to 59 adults with mild to severe knee aged 60 and above. Each patient underwent six weeks of massage therapy with aromatic oil. The session lasted for 30 minutes and occurred once a week. After six weeks, all the patients experienced a significant improvement in their health and physical activities. Also, no adverse effect was recorded.

These studies show that massage is a great complementary therapy for osteoarthritis.

The above explanation on the effect of complementary therapies like Yoga, Tai Chi, massage, and acupuncture on osteoarthritis revealed that they are very effective with little or no side effects. Also, they can be administered to both young and old males and females suffering from osteoarthritis. However, there is no study on the long term effect of the therapies.

Also, when administering any of these therapies to osteoarthritis patients, it is important to take note of the duration of the sickness. Long term patients of OA who are very aged would find it challenging to engage in Yoga and Tai Chi. All of these should be taken into considerations before encouraging a patient to try out the therapies.

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