Arthritis is basically inflammation in the joints. Inflammation describes the phenomena when the body sends in “workmen” to repair injury. The “workmen” occupy space. The space being filled then puts pressure on nerve endings strategically placed to detect this influx of fluids. When these nerves are triggered they send a signal that alerts the brain about this activity. The alerting signals are perceived as pain.

So, what we have here is joint pain brought on by various activities in those areas. The more common precipitating causes for arthritis are immune responses (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis), results from wear and tear (osteo-arthritis, or degenerative joint disease), collateral damage (e.g. Lyme’s Disease) and toxic overload (e.g. gout, which is an accumulation of uric acid in joints).

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. It is important to determine the cause of the arthritis in order to develop an appropriate strategy for addressing it. Anti-inflammatories are often the first thought. That is simply because they will bring down the fluid buildup that pushes on the nerve endings and triggers the pain signals. In other words, they relieve the pain of arthritis and that is usually appreciated. Common substances that relieve inflammation include ibuprofen and other NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) as well as steroids.

However, it is wise to first identify the cause because once the pain is gone it is easy to forget about what damage might be occurring. For instance, in the case of osteoarthritis, the cartilage that acts as a buffer could be missing entirely and the joint could be functioning bone-on-bone. In this scenario the joint would continue to deteriorate but without alerting the brain to this activity with pain. It would be similar to driving down the road and noticing that the oil light is on. One solution to addressing this annoying light (or pain) would be to cover it up with a piece of tape. Of course, it would then be more likely that you would forget about it and the engine would burn up.

So, what options are there for addressing arthritis. With toxic overload like gout, one would certainly consider removing or rebalancing the substances that are or have become toxic. This could be as easy as a diet change. Or, perhaps, chelation.

For disease sequelae (collateral damage or side effects), one needs to address the disease. It certainly is appropriate to use anti-inflammatories in these cases once the cause is determined and being addressed. This is true of immune based inflammation as well. So, with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis the inflammation can be controlled at the same time one tries to control the immune response. I believe it is best to address the immune response with herbs because they do not totally undermine the immune system as would be the case with steroids.

Osteoarthritis is an interesting case. It is understandable that one would like to relieve the pain immediately. However, a polar opposite strategy would be to stimulate the inflammatory response with the intent of repairing the joint biochemically. A method known as prolo-therapy uses this strategy. One would inject substances into the joint that stimulate the body to send in more “workmen” to rebuild cartilage and other tissues. Common substances being used for this purpose include glucosamine sulfate and ozone gas. Recently, physicians have been injecting a person’s own “platelet-rich-plasma” back into the joints. These work like stem cells to regenerate cartilage and such.

As you can see there are options for addressing arthritis to be considered before submitting to long-term steroid use and surgery.

Dr. Miles practices Naturopathic Medicine alongside other holistic practitioners at the Catalina Clinic of Integrative Medicine in Catalina, Arizona.

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