cup of green tea and lemon on rustic wooden table

Rheumatism – our top tips

1. Green tea

There are plenty of reasons to include green tea in your daily diet, and just one is that it could help fight rheumatic symptoms.

Green tea contains powerful antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols. The polyphenol in green tea is called epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG), and studies have shown that it’s up to 100 times more potent than vitamin C and vitamin E in terms of antioxidant properties.1 These antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage in your joints, and EGCG has anti-inflammatory properties as it’s known to block the signalling pathways that cause inflammation.2 Cartilage degradation is a characteristic of osteoarthritis, but the ECGC in green tea can help protect against cartilage destruction and promote the cartilage repair process.3

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2. Tumeric

There are several studies which demonstrate that curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, might help to reduce the inflammation associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Curcumin, which is what gives turmeric its distinctive yellow hue, is a phytochemical which has potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidant substances act to fight oxidative damage to cells within the body which leads to inflammation.4 A study in Thailand in 2009 suggested that curcumin was as effective as a painkiller at treating the pain of osteoarthritis. The study was based on 107 participants with osteoarthritis of the knee who were either given ibuprofen or turmeric every day for six weeks. Both groups saw a broadly equal improvement in pain levels when walking and climbing stairs, as well as seeing the same improvement in knee function.5 Research is ongoing, but taking curcumin alongside painkillers might be a more effective choice of pain relief than painkillers alone.

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3. Omega-3 fatty acids

During an inflammatory response such as those seen in rheumatic conditions, the body releases pro-inflammatory enzymes and cytokines, which are molecules which tell your immune system there is a threat, causing the area to become inflamed as a protective measure. Omega 3 fatty acids reduces the production of these pro-inflammatory enzymes and cytokines, thus dampening the inflammation response where it’s not needed.6 Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in fish oils, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts.

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Beware of consuming too many Omega 6 fatty acids, which are known to be pro-inflammatory if eaten in excess quantities. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in sunflower oil and durum wheat.7

4. Hot and cold therapy

These simple remedies can be done every day at home to make your joints feel more comfortable. Whether it’s to soothe the aching of a stiff knee, or to reduce swelling in ankles after exercises, both warm and cold temperatures can be beneficial for relieving the symptoms of rheumatism in the joints. Just make sure you know which approach to use for which type of pain.

Hot

Use heat when your joints are stiff, aching or creaky. Applying heat to a joint can help increase the blood flow and warm up the tissues which can increase joint flexibility. Take a warm bath or use a hot water bottle to ease stiff muscles and joints, for example in the morning. The sensation of the heat can be very comforting, but also your pain receptors actually decrease the transmission of pain signals to the brain when heat over 40 degrees Celcius is applied to the skin near where it hurts.8

Cold
Use cold temperatures when a joint is inflamed, red or hot to touch. This will constrict the blood vessels and reduce the blood flow to the area, which decreases swelling. The combination of cold and slight compression helps move fluids away from a swollen joint, which helps bring the swelling down. An ice pack or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel works very well, but make sure you don’t leave it on the joint for more than 20 minutes at a time.

5. Massage

Although it might seem counter-intuitive to manipulate your limbs and joints when they’re inflamed or sore, a gentle massage can actually work wonders to soothe pain, redistribute fluid and help to relax stiff muscles. Massage can lower the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to lower levels of stress and anxiety which can make it harder to manage pain. It can also promote better sleep.

If you can afford to get a regular professional therapeutic massage, that’s great and would be a worthwhile investment in your overall wellbeing. If not, then you’ll be pleased to hear that self-massage is also very effective and can be done every day at a time and place to suit you.

Massaging sore joints can help ease stiffness and could help improve range of motion. If your joints are swollen, massage can help to push fluid away from the affected area. A study from the US based on people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that after 8 weeks of regular massage, participants had less pain and increased functionality of their knee joints.9 The study team also found that the optimum amount of massage is one hour-long session per week.

You can do it yourself by rubbing over your joints gently until they become slightly warm. You can apply pressure with your fingertips, and gently knead the tissues around each joint. You can use the heel of your hand for more robust areas such as hips and knees. Trust your instincts when it comes to self-massage. If it hurts, stop.

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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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Sources

1. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4322155/.
2. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14600251.
3. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2888220/.
4. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685276/.
5. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19678780.
6. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18751910.
7. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335257/.
8. [Online] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/media/library/heatandpain..
9. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17159021.

Rheumatism