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Alternative Therapies for Arthritis Pain

Jul 30, 2010

Many alternatives are available to help arthritis sufferers find pain relief.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis, WebMD Feature

Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a Chinese tradition that the World Health Organization has endorsed as a treatment for pain. In acupuncture, disposable, stainless steel needles are used to stimulate the body's 14 major meridians (or energy-carrying channels) to correct energy imbalances in the body, according to Chinese medical philosophy. When the needles stimulate these nerves, it causes a dull ache or feeling of fullness in the muscle.

Western doctors believe that since many acu-points are located near nerves, the needles help decrease pain by stimulating chemicals that block pain, called endorphins. The stimulated muscle sends a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins (morphine-like painkilling chemicals in our own bodies). This blocks the message of pain from being delivered up to the brain.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): This procedure can also reduce pain. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area. RFA can be used to help patients with chronic (long-lasting) low-back and neck pain and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis, as well as some forms of cancer-related pain. The degree of pain relief varies, depending on the cause and location of the pain. Pain relief from RFA can last from six to 12 months and in some cases, relief can last for years. More than 70% of patients treated with RFA experience pain relief.

Acupressure: This technique is similar to acupuncture, but it uses fingertip pressure rather than needles. Acupuncture actually evolved from acupressure. The pressure of fingertips on tender areas can help relieve pain by dispersing lactic acid that builds up in target areas. It is a safe technique that you can teach yourself.

Chiropractic: A chiropractor treats diseases by manipulating the spine and other body structures, based on the belief that many diseases are caused by pressure, especially of the vertebrae, on nerves. Many people believe very strongly in this therapy because they do get pain relief from the manipulations. Check the credentials of anyone administering this therapy.

Massage Therapy: Massage is an ancient form of pain management and stress relief. Our lives today tend to be stress-filled, and massage is one way to help us relax our muscles and let our bodies be refreshed. As you read this you can probably identify areas of stress in your body. Are your shoulders tense? Is your neck stiff? Are you clenching your teeth? All this tension really aggravates the pain of arthritis. Massage is a way to help us relax and allow the blood to flow naturally through our bodies.

Reflexology: This treatment is based on the concept that the muscles and organs of the body are affected by specific areas of the feet. When pressure is applied to these areas of the soles of the feet, other locations of the body relax.

Flotation Therapy: Floating in a pool filled with Epsom salts in a room with restricted light and sound is relaxing and therapeutic. The combination of relaxation, weightlessness, and the Epsom salts has been documented to relieve pain partly by stimulating endorphin production. Flotation tanks are used in clinics to treat persons with chronic pain, to reduce anxiety, and to treat addictive behaviors like cigarette smoking.

Heat Treatment: Perhaps the oldest known treatment for arthritis is simply a hot bath. People have been going to resorts with hot mineral springs for centuries. Heat can be found in a hot bath, hot pack, or a heating pad. Another method of heat application is hot paraffin. Paraffin baths are simply heated containers filled with melted paraffin and wintergreen oil. Beauty salons use them as a hand treatment, but for arthritis sufferers these baths are a way to get deep heat to the small joints in the hands or feet. After dipping the hand a dozen times to coat it with hot paraffin, you wrap it with plastic, cover it with a towel, and leave it until it is cool. The paraffin baths can be found at medical supply firms.


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Comments (1)

Therabath on Oct 05, 2016
The use of warm paraffin began during the First World War as a medical treatment for orthopedic injuries, and was described as early as the 1930s by James A. Dickson, MD, and Walter J. Zeiter, MD, both of the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, warm paraffin has been used for decades by physicians, physical and occupational therapists, rehabilitation and pain management specialists, and a host of other medical professionals for the heat treatment of arthritis, inflammation, strains, muscle spasms, and more. In short, paraffin is a drug-free, non-invasive method of applying heat to relieve muscle stiffness and joint pain. The physiological benefits of heat are numerous. When heat is applied, the blood vessels expand, bringing more circulation to the affected area, increasing healing nutrients and oxygen at the cellular level and removing waste products that cause inflammation and stiffness. A temporary increase in the pain threshold, a decrease in muscle spasms, and an increase in flexibility occur, significantly benefitting the outcome of therapeutic range of motion (ROM) exercises. Topical heat also results in an increase in skin pliability. Warm paraffin may facilitate all of these heat related benefits and is often prescribed in the post-inflammatory phase of injury and for chronic pain conditions such as arthritis. Another benefit of warm paraffin is its effect on skin. While other forms of heat therapy — especially hydrotherapy — can dry skin out, paraffin leaves skin hydrated, soft, and pliable. Paraffin rejuvenates skin in two ways: through increased circulation and topical moisturization. As heat enhances blood flow to the small capillaries in skin, sweat from eccrine glands (which open at skin’s surface) and sebum from sebaceous glands (which open into hair follicles at skin’s surface) is increased, flushing dirt and grime from pores to give skin a healthy-looking glow. In addition, increased blood flow brings beneficial nutrients to the skin. Paired with an effective skin moisturizer, it’s no wonder that paraffin has such a dramatic effect on skin. Those who are concerned about sensitive skin can rest assured knowing that Therabath®PRO® brand food-grade paraffin is a very inert, dermatologically harmless substance that won’t clog pores.