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Other Treatments

There are other treatments available for patients who suffer from rheumatological conditions.

Complementary therapies
Increasingly, patients with rheumatoid arthritis and related conditions are using complementary therapy to supplement their prescribed medication. Locally almost half (48%) of patients attending the Ipswich Rheumatology Department have been shown to use some form of complementary therapy. The type of therapy used tends to fall into one of three categories: physical such as massage, spiritual such as healing, and herbal or homeopathic. Many find relief and comfort from the use of complementary therapies and all our staff recognise and respect this. We do advise caution, however, especially with the use of herbal remedies, many of which can interact with prescribed medication. Before starting any form of complementary treatment we recommend that you discuss this with your consultant or rheumatology practitioner. Your local pharmacist (chemist) will also be able to advise you of possible interactions with other medications, but we would still be grateful if you could notify us before starting any complementary therapies so we can record this in your hospital case notes.

Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) both produce useful information booklets on this subject which can be requested via their websites.

Diet and arthritis
Many people believe that their diet may influence the severity and course of their disease. It is claimed that many food and dietary supplements are beneficial in reducing symptoms of arthritis and associated conditions, however these claims are usually made by the manufacturers who obviously have a vested interest in persuading you to buy their products! Although research has shown benefits from certain foods and food supplements, the most important advice we can offer is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and keep your weight at a sensible level – with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI). You can calculate your BMI as follows:

  1. multiply your height in metres by itself; and then
  2. divide your weight in kilograms by the above figure – this will give you your BMI.

Or use the BMI calculator on the NHS Choices website.

An ideal BMI for most people is 20 – 25. A figure higher than this suggests you could benefit from losing some weight. Our staff can advise you on a sensible diet or you can seek help from your GP or practice nurse, who will be able to give you a diet sheet and monitor your progress. Alternatively you can, if you wish, consider joining a commercial weight loss programme, although it is always best to check with your GP or other health professional before doing this.

The Change For Life website may be useful if you need help in getting motivated to lose weight.

There are several things you can do to help yourself, particularly if you are experiencing a flare of your condition. The following principles are worth considering:

Resting affected joints as much as possible is important, although generally we do not advise complete immobilisation, since this may cause further stiffening of the joints and weakness of the muscles and other supporting structures. If you have been provided with splints for your hands you should use these as directed; however you should still try to keep your joints moving through their normal range of movement as far as you are able: gentle movements to flex (bend) and extend (straighten) affected joints are advised at regular intervals.

Applying ice packs to inflamed can be helpful in reducing inflammation by reducing inflammation and swelling and improving mobility. A pack of frozen peas wrapped in a towel can be used – apply this to the affected joint(s) for 10 minutes up to four times daily. Do not apply directly to the skin or use on areas where you have impaired sensation or poor circulation as ice can burn.

Gentle compression by applying a tubular bandage such as Tubigrip may help to minimise swelling and give support, particularly for larger joints such as knees or ankles. We may be able to supply this when you attend clinic but if purchasing this yourself you should ensure that you obtain the correct size bandage, as indicated on the box – your chemist will be able to advise you. Compression bandaging should not generally be worn at night but removed before going to bed.

Elevation of affected joints can also help to reduce swelling. A swollen wrist or elbow can be supported with a pillow and knees and ankles raised onto a footstool. Do not place a rolled up pillow or cushion behind your knee as this can impair your circulation.

It is also sensible to try to lose weight if you are overweight.