Complementary Therapies and Arthritis

February 2021

We often receive all types of enquiries to our Infoline about various complementary therapies and whether they can help arthritis and arthritis related pain. In this article, we delve a little into complementary therapies and some key things to consider. 

‘Complementary therapies’ are any treatments or therapies that are not part of the conventional treatment (such as medicines or surgery) of a disease. Examples of complementary therapies include acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal medicines.

As the name suggests, complementary therapies complement conventional medical treatment, meaning they may be used alongside them. 

Understanding the evidence

Before a conventional treatment is approved for use and recommended by your doctor, a lot of research has gone into it, firstly to make sure it is safe, and also to ensure it is effective in treating the particular condition for all types of people that it may be prescribed to. 

With complementary medicines, the main criticism is that there is often little scientific proof that they work. In many cases, little or no research has been done. In other cases, only poor quality studies have been done so the results may be inaccurate or exaggerated. 

Before starting any new treatments...

Because many complementary therapies have not been thoroughly tested, it is not always known if they are safe or unsafe. Many complementary medicines (even those promoted as natural) can cause side effects and can interact with other treatments (e.g. prescription medicines). This can cause serious health problems or make other medicines less effective.

Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using any complementary therapy. 

Be informed

No matter what type of treatment, it is important to make sure you are fully informed about a treatment before starting it.

Talk to your doctor; find out if the treatment is likely to interact with your current treatments. Do not stop any current treatments without first discussing it with your doctor. Your pharmacist can also be a great health professional to talk to for more information. 

When accessing information about a treatment from other sources, keep in mind that the information given to you by the person promoting the product or therapy may not be reliable, or they may have a financial incentive to recommend a specific treatment.

Be realistic

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for arthritis, so you should be wary of treatments that offer this. 

Relying on personal stories (testimonials) as proof of a treatment's effectiveness can also create unrealistic expectations. Everyone's experience of arthritis is different, and while someone may find something helpful, it doesn't always mean others will. This is why conventional treatments have undergone many clinical trials to understand how they work for different people. 

Don't forget to also consider the financial costs. Some treatments can come at a significant cost, but have limited proof that they work.

Your health team

This article includes just some of the things to consider before starting any new treatment. But, it is important to always speak with the members of your healthcare team to get the right information and advice for your individual situation. 

You may feel concerned that your doctor or other members of your healthcare team will disapprove of complementary therapies. However it is very important to keep them informed.

Your healthcare team, particularly your doctor and pharmacist, can’t give you the best professional advice without knowing all the treatments you are using.

More information

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