Alternative Treatments For Arthritis


Touch/movement therapies

This is the most well known therapy in traditional Chinese medicine. It follows the principle that disease or physical disharmony is caused when the energy flow or "chi" is obstructed. There are twelve meridians in the body and each one is associated with a specific organ. Acupuncturists endeavour to rebalance the vital force so that it can circulate freely through the meridians.
Very fine sterilised needles are inserted through the skin at specific points of the body. They are usually left for a short while which is believed to cause little discomfort. By slightly manipulating or twirling them, the therapist can either draw the energy to the meridians or away from them. It is common to insert needles at a considerable distance from the point on which they are to act and similarly successive points on a specific meridian may affect different areas or conditions.
Acupuncture treatment has long been used in Asian countries to relieve pain and spasms as well as improve muscle tones.

Acupunct Med 2001 Jun;19(1):19-26

Related Articles, Books, LinkOut

A comparison of acupuncture with advice and exercises on the symptomatic treatment of osteoarthritis of the hip--a randomised controlled trial.

Haslam R.

In conclusion, this trial supports the hypothesis that acupuncture is more effective than advice and exercises in the symptomatic treatment of OA of the hip.

Altern Ther Health Med 2001 Jul-Aug;7(4):58-65

Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 Jul-Aug;7(4):42-4

Clinical decisions in the use of acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee. Singh BB, Berman BM, Hadhazy V, Bareta J, Lao L, Zarow FM, Hochberg M.

CONCLUSION: Acupuncture for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee may best be used early in the treatment plan, with a methodical decrease in frequency in treatment once the acute treatment period is completed to avoid a rebound effect. Demographic and medical history data were not mediating variables.

It is also part of traditional Chinese medicine and is often described as "acupuncture without needles". Like its sister therapy, it is based on theories of life energy and meridians but it is perceived as less invasive since pressure is applied instead of using needles. The practitioner stimulates "acupoints" using the fingers, thumbs and even feet and knees to apply pressure for a period of three to ten seconds. There are several forms of acupressure which focus on different acupoints depending on whether the "Tuina", "Shen Tao", "Jin Shin Do" or "Anma" technique is used. Some acupuncturists may also integrate acupressure in their treatment.

Acupressure is believed to release tension in the muscle fibres and is thought to be beneficial for musculo- skeletal problems.

British Acupuncture Council
63 Jeddo Road
London W12 9HQ
Tel: 020 8735 0400


British Medical Acupuncture Society
BMAS Northwich
BMAS House, 3 Winnington Court
Northwich, Cheshire CW8 1AQ
Tel: 01606 786782


Alexander Technique

The aim of the Alexander technique practitioners is to teach their patients how to improve the awareness of their body and its functions in order to better use it. It is based on the idea that movement should involve a lengthening and widening of the body and relieve any tension. The technique is usually taught on a one-to-one basis, the teacher makes the patient aware of what optimum posture feels like before beginning to make adjustments and re-educating them in the use of their muscles, the goal is to produce maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Practitioners focus on the use of the body such as sitting, standing or walking. All sorts of movements and activities will be considered in the course of a programme of treatment. The Alexander technique is claimed to relieve pain.

The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT)

1st Floor, Linton House, 39-51 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1RT
020 7482 5135
020 7482 5435


Feldenkrais Therapy

It is a system of physical re-education, named after Dr Moshe Feldenkrais, that explores body awareness. The therapy aims to improve physical and mental health by 'reprogramming' patterns of movement. According to Feldenkrais practitioners, certain postures and movements reflect disruptions to the nervous system and therefore their role is to teach how to hold or move the body and seek to identify these movements so that they may be avoided. Contrary to osteopathy, where a practitioner works with the structure of the body, the Feldenkrais as well as the Alexander technique practitioners work with the function of the body. "Functional Integration" is individually taught and tailored to the patient's needs, this manipulative process is slow, gentle and painless.

This technique is believed to be beneficial for disabled children to increase mobility and gain greater control over limb movements. Dr Feldenkrais was noted for his work with conditions of severe neuromuscular disturbance such as cerebral palsy. The long-term effects of the method are not known and there has been no direct research as the Feldenkrais technique is relatively recent.

Feldenkrais Guild

Scott Clark
13 Camellia House, Idonia Street, LONDON SE8 4LZ

Reflexology is based on the theory that the feet and hands are mirrors of the body and that pressure applied to specific points can be used to treat the corresponding areas of the body. The whole foot, or less often hand, is massaged so that the whole body is treated; the practitioner will stimulate reflex points watching for any reaction of pain or tenderness as evidence of an imbalance in the corresponding area of the body.

The theory of reflexology is based on 'zones' i.e. that zones of the left side of the body correspond to reflex points on the left foot and hand and those on the right side of the body to the right hand or foot. Reflexology maps have been developed to chart the pressure points that correspond to particular parts of the body. Practitioners believe that accumulations of waste matter concentrate around reflex points, in the form of uric acid and calcium crystals.

Massage aims to break these down in order to release 'energy flow' along the zones, open blocked nerve pathways and improve circulation to flush away 'toxins'.

Association of Reflexologists

5 Fore Street,
01823 351010

The British Reflexology Association
Monks Orchard
Worcester WR6 5RB
Tel: 01886 821207

Shiatsu means "finger pressure" in Japanese. The therapeutic affects of massage were rediscovered in the early 20th century and developed into shiatsu by combining traditional techniques with a knowledge of physiognomy and anatomy derived from Western medicine. It is similar to acupressure, although an acupressure therapist will concentrate on a specific area during a session, whereas a shiatsu practitioner will cover the whole body. Following the principles of energy and meridians in acupressure and acupuncture, pressure is applied in a combination of massage techniques to influence and stimulate the energy flow in the body. 'Hara' diagnosis may also be used in which the abdomen is gently felt to detect problems elsewhere in the body.

Shiatsu International

It involves diagnosing structural and mechanical distortions in the body. Osteopathy's principle states that the body has a natural tendency to strive toward a state of health and homeostasis, which means the body has intrinsic mechanisms to heal itself. Osteopaths are trained to feel the body's "living anatomy" (i.e. flow of fluids, motion and texture of tissues, and structural makeup). They believe that if the bones, joints and muscles are not correctly aligned it will affect their mobility and the tissues of the body will not function properly. X-rays are sometimes used to detect problems and the techniques used are: manipulation, stretching, mobilisation and soft tissue massage. When working with children osteopaths use functional techniques, which involve very gentle manipulations. As this therapy focuses on the nervous system it is believed to relieve pain.

Cranial Osteopathy

Cranial osteopathy was developed as an extension to the osteopathic approach, it is a popular form of therapy for children as it is very gentle and non-invasive. It is based on the theory that the bones of the cranium (the part of the skull, which surrounds the brain) fuse into immobility in adults but in babies and young children these bones are flexible. Cranial osteopaths believe that the pulsing of the fluid which nourishes and protects the membranes surrounding the brain, spinal cord and sacrum can be detected by placing their hands on the skull; the name given to this pulsing is Cranial Rhythm impulse (CRI). The practitioner will delicately manipulate the cranial and spinal bones to restore the CRI (which should be at a rate of six to fifteen times per minute), this is believed to boost blood circulation as well as the drainage of lymph and sinus fluids in the head. The "cranial osteopath" is not preferential to the cranium or the sacrum. Instead he or she includes these areas in an overall evaluation and treatment plan, considering the whole body as one dynamic, integrated unit of function.

The General Osteopathic Council
176 Tower Bridge Road

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7357 6655


Osteopathic Centre for Children (OCC)
22a Point Pleasant
London SW18 1GG

Tel: 0208 875 5290
Fax: 0203 538 2578

Craniosacral Therapy Association of the UK
Monomark House
27 Old Gloucester Street
London WC1N 3XX
Tel: 0700 0784 735


Chiropractic, which means "done by hand", is very similar to osteopathy: it is based on the theory that the state of the nervous system in a person affects their health; the key element of the body structure is the spine, it is the link that carries nerves to the whole body, the vertebrae encases the tail of the brain which has an effect on the main bodily functions such as digestion, blood flow, heartbeat, the immune system and breathing. When there is nerve interference caused by spinal subluxations (misaligned vertebrae), there is dis-ease. Through manipulations the chiropractor can realign the vertebrae and thereby release the pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

There are two schools of chiropractors in the UK: McTimoney practitioners and regular chiropractors. The former focus on the whole body during the session in the belief that the complete realignment is necessary each time, they also emphasise self-help and teach patients a set of exercises to do at home; the latter concentrate on specific areas. Chiropractic is thought to have a positive action on neuromusculoskeletal disorders.

The British Chiropractic Association
59 Castle Street

Phone: 0118 950 5950
Fax: 0118 958 8946

E-mail: enquiries@chiropractic-uk.co.uk

British Association of Applied Chiropractic
The Old Post Office
Stratton Audley
Nr Bicester
Oxon OX6 9BA
Tel: 01869 277111

General Chiropractic Council
44 Wicklow Street
London WC1X 9HL
Tel: 0 20 7713 5155
Fax: 0 20 7713 5844

Some essential oils are believed to be uplifting while others have a relaxing and calming effect; they are also said to have anti pain, inflammation, antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It is important to consult a qualified aromatherapist, as certain oils can be toxic or cause skin irritation. Aromatherapists are also qualified massage therapists and will therefore know which oils to use for their specific properties, how to mix or blend them with carrier oils. Massage relieves tension, and can help with pain.

International Federation of Aromatherapists

20A The Mall
W5 2PJ
Tel: +44(0)208 567 2243
Fax: +44(0)208 840 9288

International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists
ISPA House
82 Ashby Road
Leicestershire LE10 1SN
Telephone (01455) 637987


Medicinal therapies

It is believed that nutrition and especially food allergies may be responsible for arthritis (see fact sheet on allergies) or may make the symptoms worse. Generally a low-fat diet is usually recommended and dairy products, gluten, eggs and sugar, should be avoided. On the other hand, sufferers should increase their sources of essential fatty acids such as: nuts, seeds, and flax seed oil, cold-water fish and deep-ocean fish including mackerel, herring, halibut, salmon, sardines.

Specific diets may also help relieve the symptoms of arthritis: The Dong Diet combines intakes of high Fibre with low fat Chinese cuisine, fresh vegetables, rice, fish and chicken. The No- nightshade diet excludes courgettes, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and chili. It is based on the assumption that these foods contain solanine, which can be toxic in high concentrations and is said to cause stiffness in the morning.

A combination of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin is usually recommended in the treatment of arthritis. Both supplements are found in high concentrations in cartilage but with age the production of glucosamine decreases. The synergistic action of glucosamine and chondroitin can help reduce the pain and promote the formation of cartilage by stimulating the metabolism of chondrocytes (cartilage cells) which will then produce more proteins to keep the cartilage strong. Glucosamine is essential to build strong joints structure while chondroitin helps attract fluid in the cartilage and acts as a shock absorber.

Feverfew leaves have an anti-inflammatory effect. Magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids, DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) and cat’s claw have been reported to help.

Other therapies:

Homeopathy yoga, ayurveda, herbalism, hydrotherapy.

Research is currently being carried out on an Indian herb called boswellia serrata, the spice turmeric, selenium; beta carotene and vitamins A, C, and E.


Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC)
PO Box 177
S41 7BR
Tel: 01246 558 033

Arthritis Care

Floor 4, Linen Court, 10 East Road, London N1 6AD
Email: Info@arthritiscare.org.uk
Tel: 020 7380 6500

Arthritis Care produces a guide to medicines and complementary therapies entitled "The balanced approach".

c/o The Arthritis & Immune Disorder Research Centre
Ontario Cancer Institute/Princess Margaret Hospital
610 University Avenue, 16th Floor
M5G 2M9
Tel: (001) 416 946 2924
Fax: (001) 416 946 2291

Children's Chronic Arthritis Association (CCAA)
47 Battenhall Avenue
Worcester WR5 2HN
Tel: 01905 763556

Young Arthritis Care's Parent Group In N. Ireland
Briege Gault (Sec)

The McCune Building
1 Shore Road
BT15 3PG
By telephone
028 9078 2940
028 9077 3634

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health
Building 31, Room 4C32
31 Center Drive
MSC 2350
Maryland 20892-2350
Tel: (001) 301 496 8188

Spondylitis Association of America
P.O. Box 5872
Sherman Oaks, CA 91413
This is the main voluntary organization devoted to all forms of spondylitis, including Reiter's syndrome. The association publishes patient and professional materials and a newsletter for members.

Arthritis Foundation
1330 West Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30309
This is a voluntary organisation devoted to arthritis. It has a very good page on altenative therapies.


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