When it comes to natural treatments for arthritis at Bothell’s Anderson Natural Medicine, Dr. Nicole Anderson has a consistent approach: Help patients figure out the source of their inflammation, remove that source, and see them get better.
“If you do not remove the source of the inflammation,” Dr. Anderson says, “you’ll never get better.”
Arthritis is inflammation specifically in the joints. Because the inflammation is in such a highly mobile area, the condition can make moving uncomfortable or painful, causing even routine tasks like walking or picking up an object to become difficult. The problem can impact just one joint or several joints in different areas of the body, from the fingers to the hips to the spine to the toes.
In pursuing a natural treatment for arthritis, Dr. Anderson emphasizes that focusing on what arthritis is—inflammation—is crucial. Identifying the type and cause of the inflammation is a vital step in bringing long-term relief.
Among the several forms of arthritis, there are two primary manifestations: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis - the most common form - is often related to repetitive stress and age, since it involves the gradual wearing and breaking down of the cartilage that forms a protective cushion at the ends of bones that meet at a joint. It can also result from specific injuries. In a young and healthy person, friction-reducing cartilage prevents bone from rubbing directly against bone. Without this cartilage, joint motion becomes more difficult, leading to stiffness, pain, and tenderness. In addition to physical deterioration, osteoarthritis can also cause inflammation in the joint lining.
Rheumatoid arthritis also impacts the joints, but is a systemic disorder that causes the body’s own immune system to attack healthy tissue. Eyes, skin, the circulatory system, and more can all develop inflammation. In the joints, this immune response prompts the lining to swell, resulting in pain and the possibility of bone erosion. Chronic fatigue, appetite loss, and fevers are also possible symptoms.
Gout, a stabbing pain, often in the feet, that results from a buildup of sharp urate crystals in the joints due to diet, disease, and other factors.
Psoriatic arthritis, which can develop as joint swelling and pain in conjunction with the patchy red skin typical of the chronic condition.
Reactive arthritis, which develops as a distant response to infections in the gut or elsewhere in the body.
Septic arthritis, which is an actual infection that spreads to joints, such as the knees, from the skin, urinary tract, or other systems due to bacteria, a virus, or fungus.
Ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammation that ultimately fuses vertebrae together and causes lower back pain, possible neck pain, and fatigue.
Dr. Anderson’s approach to medicine focuses on creating conditions that allow the body to heal itself. In some cases, this means adjusting a patient’s diet or making other lifestyle changes in order to remove barriers to natural repair functions. In other cases, the natural treatment for arthritis may be to clear up a previously undiagnosed and untreated infection in the joints or other systems. Naturally anti-inflammatory foods can help, as can certain herbs that modulate the immune system, non-narcotic medications, and non-steroidal pain treatment injections.
Injection options include platelet-rich plasma, which concentrates the healing components of a patient’s own blood, and ozone injections that can target muscle, joint, and musculoskeletal pain, as well as nutrient injections.
Arthritis can severely limit mobility and function, as well as dramatically lower quality of life. Left untreated, the inflammation can worsen and cause increasingly significant damage to the bones of the joint, potentially resulting in the need for such surgical interventions as joint replacement or bone fusion. Bone worn away by friction can’t be “re-grown,” so preventing this type of damage as much as possible by addressing and resolving inflammation is important.
When applied in a timely manner, natural treatments for arthritis can also prevent inflammation from impacting other areas of the body. As with many of the conditions Dr. Anderson treats, the chronic pain of arthritis is typically not the problem itself, but an “alarm bell” your body is ringing to draw attention to the underlying cause. Addressing the actual cause can not only bring relief of the specific symptom, but also promote overall well-being.