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Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Arthritis

If you have aches and pains from arthritis, you know how difficult moving your joints can be, and the prospect of your symptoms worsening over time is daunting, to say the least.

A poorly functioning immune system can cause chronic inflammation, which is the fundamental problem behind arthritis. Conventional treatments for arthritis rely on using prescription medications to decrease inflammation. Functional medicine, on the other hand, reduces symptoms of arthritis by starting with the root cause.

Are you experiencing arthritis pain, swelling, or mobility issues? Start with our  free webinar to learn how we help. 

Let’s Talk About Arthritis

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability among adults in the United States, affecting approximately 58.5 million people. 

Arthritis is one of the most misunderstood diseases in traditional medicine because many people think it is permanent. While arthritis is, in fact, a chronic disease, this doesn’t mean you have to live with its symptoms forever. 

What is Arthritis?

Simply put, arthritis is inflammation in one or more of your joints, such as your knees, wrists, or ankles. Arthritis is more a symptom than a condition. It’s essentially your body’s way of letting you know you’re doing something to cause inflammation in a particular joint. 

Arthritis is somewhat of a general term for various things that affect your joints. It’s a very common disease that, if left unchecked, can literally cripple your life. Chronic pain, disfigured joints, and restricted movement are all side effects. And it doesn’t stop there – it can be progressive, getting worse and spreading to other joints. 

Types of Arthritis

There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but the two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

More than 32 million American adults have osteoarthritis, 62% of which are females. The knees are among the joints most commonly affected, with more than 14 million American adults having symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is less common but still impacts a whopping 1.3 million adults in the United States. 

Osteoarthritis results from a breakdown of cartilage in your body and your body’s inability to compensate. This loss of cartilage can be from wear and tear or from another disease. When your body cannot replace the cartilage, the joint lining grows thinner, narrowing the space between bones. This loss of space can be painful as your bones rub or put too much pressure on each other. You are most likely to develop osteoarthritis in your hands, lower back, neck, and weight-bearing joints, such as knees, hips, and feet. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease resulting from your immune system mistakenly attacking your joint lining and cartilage. And, like osteoarthritis, when the joint lining grows thin, it results in pain and swelling; eventually, it can lead to deformity of the joints. While less common than osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can be more severe. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the smaller joints such as your fingers and toes. In order to truly reverse the effects of either type of arthritis, they require a holistic approach for treatment. 

Risk Factors for Arthritis

Now you know that arthritis is the result of worn-down joint cartilage, but what factors put you at risk for it? Common risk factors include:

  • Your age – The risk for many types of arthritis increases as you get older.
  • Your sex – Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while men are more likely to have gout, another type of arthritis. 
  • Your weight – Excess weight puts stress on your joints, and people with obesity are at higher risk of developing arthritis.
  • Your genetics – You may be more likely to develop arthritis if your parents or siblings have it. 
  • An injury – If you experienced a sports-related or work injury in a joint, you are more likely to develop arthritis in that joint. 

Your Gut Is Part of the Problem

Between 70 to 80% of your body’s immune system resides in your digestive tract. A faulty immune system is linked to many common types of inflammatory arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. But if things go awry in your gut, it can play a major role in inflammatory types of arthritis.

Many things can cause your gut to go awry. Stress, smoking, certain foods. These triggers can cause an abnormal immune response in the gut, leading to runaway inflammation that causes problems such as arthritis.

The functional medicine approach to treating arthritis is based on these concepts and thus targets gut health in many treatment plans. Increasing antioxidants and eating more anti-inflammatory foods can help you get in front of inflammation and balance your immune system.

A Sedentary Lifestyle Increases Your Risk

Growing older and working a desk job probably means you aren’t using your muscles as much as you used to. But inactivity can cause a variety of health concerns, including arthritis. When your body is weaker, you are more at risk for stiffness and decreased mobility. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is commonly associated with osteoarthritis. 

Treating Arthritis

Conventional medicine focuses on controlling pain and suppressing symptoms. It does this by prescribing medications to block the inflammation in your joints. Although prescription medications can decrease symptoms and, in some cases, prevent further joint destruction, they don’t get at the root cause of the inflammation. In short, prescription medications are not long-term solutions. 

Functional medicine searches for the root of the inflammation, whether that be dietary sensitivities, autoimmune triggers, stress, etc… 

The Functional Medicine Approach

Functional medicine heals arthritis pain by addressing the underlying root cause. This approach knows that arthritis is different for everybody. And while the treatment plan will be tailored to your specific needs, those suffering from can generally benefit from:

1. Healing a Leaky Gut

A leaky gut is a gateway for infections, toxins, or irritants such as gluten to cause inflammation in your digestive tract and cause your immune system to attack. You can begin to correct a leaky gut by  following an anti-inflammatory diet, removing toxins and getting a further workup to correct any imbalances you may have. Probiotics and prebiotics can also be beneficial in correcting a leaky gut and the inflammation it causes.  

2. Maintaining an Optimal Weight

If excess weight is contributing to your arthritis, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pressure on your joints and alleviate arthritis pain. You don’t have to count calories to do this. Instead, just focus on removing bad foods (processed or refined sugar foods) and adding good foods (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, herbs, legumes, nuts, etc.). 

3. Exercising

When you suffer from arthritis, exercising can be difficult. But it’s important to try and stay active, even with arthritis, to support your overall health. Low impact exercises such as yoga, as well as aerobic and resistance training workouts, are great for strengthening and supporting your joints.

4. Detoxifying

Detoxifying means removing harmful toxins from your body that can cause a plethora of chronic diseases. Exposure to certain toxins can elevate your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, so going through a detox can help alleviate arthritis symptoms.

5. Taking Supplements

As you now know, the immune system plays a significant role in causing inflammation. Taking supplements can help you maintain a healthy immune system, which may help reduce inflammation in your entire body. Supplements such as vitamin D, omega-3 fish oils, and glutathione have all been shown to help regulate the immune system.

Our doctor and health coach at Tri-Cities Functional Medicine will guide you through a treatment plan that naturally supports and repairs cartilage, reduces pain and inflammation, balances your immune system, and addresses any underlying conditions or imbalances contributing to your arthritis. 

Want to learn more about how functional medicine can help with your arthritis symptoms? Take the first step:

  1. Watch our free webinar to learn about our approach to the health concerns you are facing.
  2. Schedule a Free Discovery Call to discuss your health concerns and goals to see if our practice is a good fit for you.
  3. After your discovery call – if we are a good fit, you’ll schedule a consultation with our doctor to dive deeper and formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.

Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout Tennessee and into Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, Abingdon, VA, Grundy, VA, Asheville, NC, Boone, NC.