Complimentary therapy for arthritis

Complimentary therapy is a form of treatment which focuses upon treating the whole of the patient – known as a holistic approach rather than just a set of symptoms. It can be used to ease the symptoms of arthritis as part of an overall treatment package.

It is designed to support conventional medicine hence the use of the word ‘complimentary’.

Complimentary therapy is not to be used in place of conventional forms of treatment for arthritis. It should be used in conjunction with your current treatment plan after discussion with your GP.

An example of this is yoga which is a very popular system of relaxation. It is based upon a series of exercises and meditation to improve both the mind and body. This makes it a good choice for the relief of arthritis symptoms, for example, improving strength and flexibility in arthritic joints.

We discuss complimentary therapy in the following way:

  • Difference between complimentary therapy and alternative medicine
  • Categorising complimentary therapies
  • Examples of complimentary therapies
  • Other techniques
  • Does complimentary therapy work?

Difference between complimentary therapy and alternative medicine

You may have heard the terms ‘complimentary therapy’and ‘alternative medicine’used or interchanged with each other. It is difficult to pinpoint the differences between the two so the answer is to combine these together.

A popular approach is that of ‘integrated medicine’which combines conventional, alternative and complimentary treatments together. A good example of this is a treatment plan for an arthritis sufferer which includes medication, acupuncture and aromatherapy oils.

Categorising complimentary therapies

Complimentary therapies fall into the following three categories:

  • Mind and emotion based therapies
  • Touch and movement based therapies
  • Diet and medicine based therapies

So whichever remedy you use will be from one of these categories. You may use several of these alongside your conventional treatment.

Examples of complimentary remedies

Here is a list of the most popular remedies, some of which you will be more familiar with than others. They do have a range of benefits but they also have side effects as well. Some people are not suited to these remedies, for example aromatherapy for a variety of reasons.

Check with your GP before using any of these remedies.

They include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage
  • Homeopathy
  • Meditation
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Alexander Technique


This is a system which involves the insertion of tiny needles in pressure points in the body. The concept behind this is that these needles will alter or prevent pain messages from arthritic joints being sent to the brain.

At the same time, they will cause endorphins (natural painkillers) to be released which will ease pain and discomfort in affected joints.


This is a very popular activity which is based upon a system of slow, gentle exercises and meditation. These help the mind and body to relax but are also effective at toning the muscles of the body. Yoga also improves flexibility as well which makes it a suitable form of exercise for arthritis sufferers.


This is based upon series of essential plant oils which are used to relieve the symptoms of a wide range of conditions such as arthritis and improve mental and physical wellbeing.

These oils are inhaled or massaged into your skin as a lotion or cream.

No-one is certain as to how these oils work on the body although they are effective at easing stress and anxiety caused by a medical condition.


This is a soothing and relaxing remedy which reduces stress, anxiety and other similar symptoms. It can ease stiff tendons and muscles caused by arthritis and generally, it lightens your mood.


This is a therapy which is based upon treating a patient with a diluted substance which is also the cause of their condition. In other words, giving the person a small amount of an active ingredient which will trigger symptoms similar to those associated with their existing condition.

The idea is that this will also trigger a healing response in the body.

Homeopathic remedies are made from plant and animal extracts or minerals. They are ingested as a tablet, powder, cream which is rubbed onto the skin or as a substance (tincture) which is diluted in water.


This involves a series of breathing exercises to help relax the mind and body. It is useful at relieving stress, anxiety or depression which is often a side effect of arthritis.


This therapy consists of a series of exercises performed in water, e.g. swimming pool. These non-weight bearing exercises are ideal for people with arthritis as no pressure put on damaged joints. They are also good at building and strengthening the muscles which will provide extra support for the joints.

Alexander Technique

This is the name given to a system which is based upon a series of movements, designed to improve balance, mobility and support. They help to ease tension in parts of the body and increase energy levels.

Other techniques

Other therapies include hypnosis, herbal medicine, and osteopathy and magnet therapy.

Hypnosis is the placing of a person into a deep state of relaxation with the aim of enabling them to relax and talk about issues in their past which may be causing problems.

Herbal medicine involves the use of natural plants extracts as medicines to treat various medical conditions. In fact, many of our modern drugs were originally derived from plants even though they are produced synthetically. An example of this is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are commonly prescribed for arthritis.

Osteopathy is a ‘hands on’ therapy in that the practitioner manipulates a problematic joint or muscle back into its original position. This is often used for back problems, e.g. slipped disc and sports injuries.

Magnet therapy involves using magnets to help relieve pain caused by conditions such as arthritis. These magnets are placed on the surface of the skin.

Does complimentary therapy work?

This is the major issue. A great many people use these remedies and find that they are of some benefit. They notice an improvement in their symptoms as well as the psychological benefits, e.g. reduced stress levels.

But, what needs to be remembered is that these remedies are not cures for arthritis. They will ease the symptoms of arthritis such as pain and stiffness but will not cause your condition to disappear.

But as we have said, many people enjoy using them and find them useful at relieving their symptoms.

Note: whilst many of these remedies are backed up with solid evidence there are others which make claims that are unsubstantiated. So be careful when deciding which remedy to use.

Do not use a remedy if advised to do so in place of conventional treatment. These therapies are meant to be used as well as more conventional forms of treatment such as drugs, splints and surgery.

Approach with caution any practitioner who advises you to stop using conventional treatment. Speak to someone who has a balanced view of both and will provide objective advice. Also speak to your GP as he/she may be able to recommend a suitable practitioner or clinic.

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