by Dee Atkinson, Medical Herbalist, MNIMH
Arthritis is a chronic health problem and it is always a question of management, working on a specific program of exercise, herbs and supplements to support your specific problems. There is no single approach that works for every patient. Often simple changes in diet and lifestyle can have a big impact. In other situations we need to use anti inflammatory herbs and herbs to ease spasm and pain. Working in a multidisciplinary clinic means we can easily refer patients and bring a number of different modalities into the treatment plan.
To manage joint problems you need to take a long term approach and find a manageable and sustainable plan. I often work with patients over a period of many years and some have been with me since I first started over 20 years ago. I look at the management of joint problems as a series of layers. First, we set up a treatment plan, looking at herbs that can reduce inflammation and ease pain as the first layer, underneath this will be detox herbs, herbs to support the liver and bowel and finally, but equally important, herbs to encourage blood flow and repair tissue.
Every patient is different and the formulas are built around the patient and change as the patient’s symptoms change. I often find that patients’ prescriptions need to be altered depending on the season but a long term patient will learn the rhythms of their own body and will know when it is time to change the emphasis of the prescription.
Obviously we have different underlying causes of joint problems, these can stretch from wear and tear to auto immune and even viral. Our approach varies with each case.
As well as using herbs we need to look at diet and supplementation. Food is critical in managing joint problems and there are many different dietary plans for the management of joint problems: the low purine diet (cutting out organ meats like kidney and liver and fish like sardines, for example); the acid free diet; the diet that avoids all plants from the Solanaceae family (potatoes, peppers, courgettes); and the wheat free diet to name but a few. The truth is that there is no one diet or food group that suits all. I have found over the years of clinical practice that there are combinations for each of these diets that can help individual patients. Diet is not the cause of joint problems, but dietary management can help to ease symptoms.
Drink Nettle Leaf Tea instead of coffee and eat plenty of cleansing foods such as celery and grapes. Look for a good source omega 3 and of antioxidants, which will help to reduce joint inflammation and maintain joint health.
I have a combination capsule that I use with my patients that contains Curcumin (Tumeric) and Boswellia (Frankinsense). These herbs have anti inflammatory actions without having the side effects that we so often find with orthodox anti inflammatory herbs.
Swimming or water aerobics is another form of exercise that some arthritis suffers find beneficial. Whatever you do, you need to start gently and work out what your limitations are. If the arthritis is in an active inflammatory phase I would suggest that you consult a herbalists who would blend a formula together to suit your specific problems. Napiers Joint Ability Herbal Remedy is specific for easing joint problems.