Unlike some other types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition which causes inflammation in the joints and other parts of the body. To help relieve symptoms, reduce pain and slow down joint damage, medication is often used. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to arthritis treatment and what works for one person, might not work for another. Although medication is the only treatment proven to slow down the progression of the disease, many people also look to complementary therapies to help them manage the symptoms of their RA. These therapies can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, improve joint function and enhance overall well-being. Below we have explored some of the different therapies you can try for rheumatoid arthritis alongside your conventional medical treatment. Common Treatment and Medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis Before diving into complementary therapies, it’s important to note that you should always follow the advice of your rheumatology team. They have the knowledge and experience to create a bespoke treatment plan for you, depending on a variety of factors which can change over time. The medication they recommend will have been scientifically proven to help manage RA symptoms and will have undergone rigorous testing. Common medication includes; Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drug (NSAID), Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drug (DMARD), a biologic drug or a biosimilar medicine. Sometimes, painkillers and steroids will also be used within Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment plans. While these medications are effective in managing this autoimmune condition, there are other things you can do to improve your symptoms and overall quality of life. Physical Activity and Exercise Physical activity can be really beneficial when you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis. When you exercise, it can help to ease some of the symptoms you’re experiencing and also support your general health. Low-impact exercise, like swimming and walking, can help to keep your joints flexible and strengthen muscles around the joints. There are exercises you can do no matter how severe your RA may be and you can gradually build up the amount of exercise you do. If you’re not sure where to start with an exercise regimen, sign up for our SMILE e-learning programme. We have a module on ‘Importance of Physical Activity and Exercise’. Diet and Nutrition Eating a healthy, balanced diet is always important, but altering your diet can help to manage RA. It’s important to try and maintain a healthy weight as weight gain can put increased stress on the joints. The foods you eat can help to support your body and improve symptoms too. For example, a Mediterranean diet can help to manage chronic inflammation. At NRAS, we have collated lots of information about diet and nutrition for which there is evidence of benefits for people with RA. Acupuncture Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that has become increasingly popular. It involves inserting tiny needles into different parts of the body to stimulate nerves in the muscles. This is believed to stimulate natural painkillers, such as endorphins, and increase blood flow which can potentially reduce inflammation. Some people with chronic and long-term conditions find acupuncture helpful in managing pain, and it’s sometimes available on the NHS. Massage Therapy Massage therapy can also be used alongside medication for rheumatoid arthritis to provide relief from everyday pain and stiffness while also improving the range of motion in your joints. While regular massages might not impact your condition, the short-term pain relief they provide can make some daily activities easier and improve your general well-being. It’s important to find a therapist with experience working with people with RA to ensure a safe experience. Osteopathy and Chiropractic Care Although they are different, both osteopathy and chiropractic care can be beneficial for people experiencing joint pain. During an appointment, a highly-trained professional will use physical manipulation, stretching and massage to reduce tension, improve mobility and relieve pain. A treatment plan will be designed with different manual therapy techniques depending on your unique circumstances and needs. Hydrotherapy As mentioned above, swimming is a popular exercise for people with rheumatoid arthritis and hydrotherapy may be able to help too. This involves exercising in a pool of water and it can offer a range of benefits. Since the water supports your weight, it is a low-impact exercise that doesn’t put stress on the joints, yet it also provides resistance which can help improve muscle strength. If you’re new to aquatic exercise, it’s beneficial to speak to a rheumatologist first. Mindfulness and Stress Management Techniques Living with RA can impact your mental health and unfortunately, stress can sometimes exacerbate the symptoms you’re experiencing. Mindfulness practices and stress management techniques, including meditation, yoga and deep breathing, can be beneficial. By focusing on the connection between mind and body, they can help reduce stress, alleviate pain and improve mental well-being. It’s very easy to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine and you have nothing to lose by trying it. Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis There is no denying that medication remains a key component of RA treatment and although there is no cure for RA, you can still live a full and active life when you get your symptoms under control. Trying some complementary therapies can offer additional benefits when managing rheumatoid arthritis and help to enhance your overall quality of life. To be on the safe side, it’s important to discuss any complementary therapies you’re interested in with a healthcare professional. Your rheumatology team may even recommend some other options that will complement your existing treatment plan. If you’d like to find out more about living with RA, take a look at the resource hub. Here you will find a range of useful articles, videos and tools to make day-to-day life more manageable.