When this proactive attitude is backed up with caution and common sense, good things can sometimes happen, Klippel says. In some cases, today’s alternative medicine may someday be tomorrow’s mainstream. Many rheumatologists (doctors who specialize in arthritis and other joint diseases) are very open to the idea of complementary medicine, he says. If any remedy can prove its worth in controlled clinical trials, doctors will quickly embrace it.
Unfortunately, most alternative treatments have rarely, if ever, been put to the scientific test. A few studies have shown some benefit from these treatments, but the results aren’t consistent. While some patients swear by the results, doctors are still waiting for the hard data. There are, however, a number of studies on at least three complementary treatments that show great promise: acupuncture, exercise and glucosamine/chondroitin.
A landmark study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Other studies have also found it helpful in relieving pain. As a result, it is increasingly being used as part of arthritis treatment and may even be covered by health insurance.
Exercise — though considered more self-care than alternative remedy — is also widely recognized as reducing arthritis pain and improving flexibility, range of motion and mobility. One study published in Arthritis Care and Research found that two hours of strength building exercises a week showed that after eight weeks, participants had less pain and fatigue, and improved leg and arm functioning; those that continued the program beyond eight weeks also saw an improvement in stiffness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that — with the approval of your physician — you exercise 30 minutes a day at least five days a week.This could include a combination of strength-building exercises and walking , biking, dancing, swimming or water exercise.