Finding effective arthritis relief can be a challenge. You may have already tried lifestyle changes, alternative medicine and/or pain medication. While it can take a while to find the right-mix of treatments, by being open to new ideas and approaches you may just find the perfect combination for you.
Earthing is a newer holistic approach that many are using for arthritis relief. It works by reducing inflammation and can safely be used in combination with arthritis medications and other natural approaches. Earthing has many benefits and is suitable for all types of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory types of arthritis including psoriatic arthritis, gout and lupus.
Inflammation and Arthritis
The word arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints. However the role inflammation plays in this condition depends upon the type of arthritis that you have.
Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout and lupus are types of arthritis that are directly caused by inflammation.
In a healthy scenario, inflammation is a short-lived, natural response by the body to injury or infection. When the body is injured or invaded by pathogens such as bacteria or viruses, the cells of the immune system release chemical signals which summon specialized white blood cells to the area. These destroy the potential treat and remove the risk of infection. This surge of activity gives off a large amount of heat. The familiar symptoms of swelling, redness and pain quickly follow.
In chronic inflammation, the inflammatory process keeps on going. The body becomes too sensitive to harmless substances. Worse still, it can fail to recognize the body’s own tissues and begin to attack them. This is the case with rheumatoid arthritis where the bodies own anti-bodies attack the lining of the joint and cause more inflammation, pain, and in some cases deformity. To stop this cycle, rheumatoid arthritis medications aim to modify the body’s immune response and prevent excess inflammation.
In osteoarthritis, inflammation is not the cause but a byproduct of the degeneration of joint. In a healthy joint, rubbery material called cartilage at the end of the bone provides a smooth cushion that allows for easy motion. When the cartilage breaks down, an inflammatory response occurs. Pain, swelling, stiffness and immobility can result.
Chronic inflammation in the joint can stimulate the cells in the bone to develop a nodule or bone spur. This tends to happen in joints or discs in the spine with prolonged information and degenerated cartilage. While some bone spurs do not cause any pain at all, others can be painful due to pressure on surrounding nerves or tendons. Occasionally surgery may be needed.
Arthritis Relief Medications
Many arthritis medications aim to reduce inflammation.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, where the underlying cause is an overactive immune system, they also work by dampening the immune response.
Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis
There three main types of rheumatoid arthritis medications: corticosteroids, disease-modifying drugs and biological drugs.
Corticosteroids, like prednisolone, are usually prescribed as a short course, as long term they can produce serious side effects including:
- Weight gain
- Thinning of the bones or skin
- High blood pressure
- Stomach pain, nausea or gastric bleeding
- Lowered immunity and higher risk of infections
Disease-modifying drugs, for example methotrexate, are another class of drugs sometimes prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis relief. These affect the immune system and reduce inflammation. Side effects include:
- Liver damage
- Reduced production of red blood cells
- Lung, intestine or stomach damage
The newest class of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis relief are the biologic drugs. These include adalimumab and etanercept. Again, these reduce inflammation by calming the immune system. Side effects include:
- Lowered immunity and increased risk of infection
- Flu-like symptoms
If you are currently taking prescription rheumatoid arthritis medications, then stopping suddenly may cause side effects. Options include combining natural options with medication, with the support of your doctor or finding a holistic GP to collaborate with on your health strategy.
Medications for Osteoarthritis
Treatment for osteoarthritis includes painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication.
The most commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac. These are safe for most people although asthmatics, people suffering from cardio-vascular disease and people with gastric problems should exercise caution. The main side effect of NSAIDs is that they irritate the stomach lining. This can be avoided by taking them after food. Other side effects include:
- Gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers
- Increased risk of stroke or heart attack
- Kidney damage
Other painkillers can also be used, although they do not have the effect of reducing inflammation. When taken properly, paracetamol is the safest option as it is well tolerated by most people and available over the counter. Stronger painkillers which contain an opioid such as codeine may be prescribed if necessary. The side effects of opioids include:
- Risk of dependence
- Risk of overdose
Like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis can be treated using corticosteroid drugs to reduce inflammation. These can be taken orally or injected into a specific joint to reduce the risk of side effects.
Osteoarthritis can also be treated surgically. An arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure in which a small tool is used to repair damaged joints and cartilage. Whole joints can also be replaced if the damage is severe.
Natural Pain Relief for Arthritis
Many people prefer to use natural pain relief for arthritis, either to reduce the need for medication or to complement its effects.
Therapies such as physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and massage are all helpful in managing stiffness and pain. Mindfulness and meditation techniques relax the body and mind, reduce stress and manage the pain associated with rheumatoid or osteoarthritis.
At home, applying hot or cold compresses can help to relieve arthritis pain. Experiment with both to find out which works best for you.
Exercise is another simple yet effective way to provide relief from arthritis symptoms. Gentle, low impact exercises strengthen the muscles, keep the joints mobile and relieve stiffness. Yoga, tai chi and swimming are especially suitable.
Another way to manage arthritis naturally is by making adjustments to your diet or taking supplements. Two of the most well-known supplements for arthritis relief are turmeric and ginger. As spices, these can both easily incorporated regular meals, and research supports their efficacy for pain relief.
Earthing for Arthritis Relief
Earthing is the act of being in conductive contact with the earth. You can do it by walking outside barefoot on green grass or by bringing yourself into conductive contact with an indoor earthing product. Find out more in What is Earthing.
The idea of earthing for arthritis relief is a fairly new concept, but one with ancient roots. Before the advent of rubber-soled shoes and high-rise living, people lived closer to the earth. They wore leather shoes or walked barefoot. They spent more time outside, grew their own food. This allowed for close, conductive contact with the earth’s subtle negative charge.
The earth’s surface is rich in what are known as free electrons. These are formed by solar energy and lightning strikes. In the body, these free electrons have been found to reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and relieve pain.
Over twenty published research studies have been done on earthing. Although no research has been done as yet on arthritis, the preliminary results for inflammation reduction are promising.
Earthing for Reduced Inflammation
One major way in which earthing reduces inflammation is by providing the body with additional antioxidants to wind up inflammatory processes faster. This 2010 study explored the effects of earthing on several different biological markers including levels of white blood cells and other chemical associated with inflammation. Earthing reduced inflammatory markers faster after injury in earthed subjects compared to those who were sham-earthed. They also reported less pain. Testing took place of four days where the subject slept on earthing sleep systems and did 40minutes earthing at the same time each day after exercising. This research confirms that earthing can reduce both inflammation and pain, and has the potential for arthritis relief.
Earthing also help regulates levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is essential to the body’s functions. However, having raised levels of cortisol is associated with both increased stress and inflammation. Dr William Amalu’s conducted 20 case studies on people in pain and found that use of targeted earthing on the affected area and/or sleeping earthed overnight had reduced inflammation and pain levels for all participants. Some of the results were remarkable.
The following infrared image shows a significant reduction in inflammation after 30minutes of earthing directly to each knee. The left-hand picture is before earthing – note the red, orange and yellow colour. The right-hand side is after earthing, The person in this study had chronic knee pain for the last 6-years following a fall from a ladder. She had received 3 knee surgeries and extension physical therapy with poor results. After 30-minutes of earthing, the subject reported a 20% reduction in pain that lasted 24hours, with pain-relief increasing over the following weeks with regular daily earthing.
Other case studies had similar results. The thermal imagery for case study 14 below shows pictures taken before earthing (left) and after 4-weeks of daily earthing (right). Note the reduction of inflammation behind the right knee shown as a return to cooler colours, and the symmetry between left and right legs. The subject reported a 70% reduction in pain after 4-weeks of regular daily earthing to the knee joint.
Improving Blood Circulation for Arthritis Relief
Improving blood circulation is another way in which earthing may help relieve arthritis symptoms.
Blood is made up of white cells, red cells, platelets (which help with clotting), other chemicals and gases, all suspended in a liquid called plasma.
The ability of blood to flow smoothly through the vessels is known as blood viscosity. When the plasma has a high concentration of red cells, blood viscosity increases. This means it does not flow as smoothly. This increases the risk of cardio-vascular diseases and reduces the rate at which nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the organs and muscles. Poor circulation is often a factor in painful conditions such as arthritis.
Earthing reduces blood viscosity by preventing red blood cells from clumping together, as shown in this 2013 study. All of the participants who presented with pain reported that a reduction after two hours of earthing.
The Importance of Good Sleep for Arthritis Relief
Good sleep plays an important role in arthritis relief. During sleep, your body produces a number of beneficial hormones, while cortisol levels are reduced. All of this reduces pain and makes arthritis symptoms easier to manage.
However, when you are suffering from chronic pain, a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by. Being unable to get comfortable at night or being woken by pain can result is a vicious cycle of poor sleep and increased inflammation and pain.
Earthing Overnight for Deep Sleep and Pain Relief
Sleeping on an earthing underlay can help you to return to good sleeping patterns and relieve arthritis. Research has shown that earthing overnight works by reducing overnight cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It peaks in the morning, which triggers the process of waking up from sleep. Although it is vital for health, having raised cortisol levels is associated with increased stress, inflammation and pain. By reducing cortisol levels, earthing overnight may assist in arthritis relief.
Earthing Overnight to Reduce Morning Stiffness
Another common symptom of both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis is waking up stiff in the morning. This is because when you sleep, certain proteins that reduce inflammation are inhibited. This results in an early morning increase in inflammation, meaning more stiffness and pain.
Earthing yourself while you sleep can combat this overnight inflammation. It also improves sleep, meaning that you wake up refreshed and with less pain.
How to Get Started
To experience earthing, all you have to do is step outside and kick off your shoes. Just a few minutes standing barefoot on grass or unpainted concrete is enough to begin to take advantage of earthing’s many benefits.
A wide range of earthing products are also available to use indoors. These allow you to take advantage of earthing while you work, relax or even while you sleep.
Oschman J, Chevalier G, Hill, M. ‘Pilot study on the effect of grounding on delayed-onset muscle soreness.’ Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 2010 Mar; 16(3): 256-73.
Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Delany RM. ‘Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity—a major factor in cardiovascular disease.’ Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2013, Volume 19 (2). 102-110
Amalu, W. Clinical Earthing Application in 20 Case Studies, unpublished research by Dr Amalu president of International Academy of Clinical Thermography