Because some kinds of arthritis can be so overpowering at times, many people understandably strive for some sense of control over the disease-both to obtain peace of mind and to promote healing. Some do this through faith or optimism, some by educating themselves about their disease, some with diet, some with exercise. While all these efforts may indeed be helpful, what may make them seem especially significant is that they are things that you control.
That same positive desire to pitch in and participate in your own arthritis therapy can make you vulnerable to expensive and unproven remedies, however. Especially when things seem to be moving slowly, it’s harder to resist the confident claims of many alternative therapies or products that simply don’t work. At worst, some may harm you. At best, some may lift your spirits for a while or ease pain momentarily.
If you want to pursue alternative treatments, two concepts are key: You don’t want to hurt yourself, and you should never neglect or abandon standard medical care. You also don’t want to throw your money away: Alternative treatments are seldom covered by health insurance. While there are reputable alternative practitioners, there are also many who are not and who are all too happy to relieve you of your money for speculative treatments.
If you choose to visit an alternative therapist, ask for recommendations from friends or doctors, and be sure to ask about credentials and licensing. Bear in mind, however, that most alternative healers can hang out a shingle without extensive training, objective review boards, or any sort of consistent regulation. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of ” let the buyer beware.”
With those warnings in mind, here is a look at alternative practitioners who may have helped some people relieve pain. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that proves these methods are helpful for arthritis. However, some people do feel they have benefited by giving these practitioners a try.
Acupuncturist. In this ancient branch of Chinese medicine, very thin needles are inserted painlessly into the skin to relieve pain or other conditions. Although no one is quite sure how it works, one theory is that acupuncture triggers the release of natural endorphins within the body that act as natural painkillers. Your main concerns are that the acupuncturist is well trained, maintains scrupulous sterilization techniques, and uses disposable needles. (The improper use of needles, whether for acupuncture or tattoos, can transmit hepatitis or even AIDS.) No formal qualification, unfortunately, is required to practice, but there are licensed acupuncturists. Check with the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists (202-232-1401) for help in locating one. Or the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (800-521-2262) can refer you to a medical doctor who has had at least 200 hours of training in acupuncture. Expect to pay an acupuncturist from $40 to $100 for a first visit and $30 to $70 for each follow-up visit and more for a medical doctor who also does acupuncture.
Chiropractor. A chiropractor concentrates on adjusting the spine, joints, and muscles, using physical manipulation for therapy. Chiropractic care can be helpful for common low back pain but can be very dangerous for people with ankylosing spondylitis. Manipulation of these people can be fatal. Also, chiropractic should play no role in treating rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, in which the wrong kind of manipulation can cause further pain and damage. Chiropractic treatment may also include massage, application of heat and cold, or TENS the unproven electrical stimulation method for pain relief that some physical therapists use. A chiropractor should have six years of training at the college level and a state license.
Massage therapist. For sore or overtaxed muscles, massage from a well-trained therapist can feel wonderful. Though it’s true that massage can relieve stress and pain in tight muscles, there is no scientific evidence that those good sensations are more than momentary. And they won’t make your arthritis disappear. If you enjoy the stress-relieving comfort of massage, there’s no harm. But be sure to see only a trained and licensed therapist who also understands the aches and pains of your particular kind of arthritis.
Always bear in mind that some types of alternative treatment may not be suited for your particular condition and might even make it worse. You can also try some dietary supplements such as the Glucosamine Chondroitin, which has been shown to relieve some pain in many cases. So again, before you consider one, be sure to ask your doctor if it will harm you. Whether or not your doctor “believes in” a specific alternative treatment, she can tell you of any possible damaging results. And during any such treatment you do choose to undertake, keep your doctor informed of any changes in your condition.