Dr. Shirley Zabol is a naturopathic doctor using natural products and complementary treatments to treat short-term and chronic pain. Here, her top recommendations, which she customizes to each person’s individual needs.
1. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine and seeks to “open up the body’s lines of energy, or chi, pathways, to allow the dispersement of pain and inflammation,” explains Zabol. “When energy circulates, there is less pain.” For patients who are receptive to this treatment, Zabol uses slender acupuncture needles, gently placed at various locations on the body to improve energy flow. In some cases, painful conditions can be resolved in just a few sessions. Others need regular visits on a long-term basis.
2. Hot/cold hydrotherapy is a treatment used to manage pain and swelling with an acute minor injury. Heat expands and opens the blood vessels; cold contracts it. “You’re opening and closing blood vessels, flushing out inflammation and stagnation,” says Zabol. “At home, you can do a shower or, if you want to isolate your foot or hands, assemble a bowl of hot water (hot to the touch but not uncomfortable) and a bowl of ice water. Do three minutes hot water followed by two minutes cold. Repeat this three times a session. Do three sessions a day.”
3. Remove inflammatory “nightshade” foods. Certain foods, know as nightshade foods – eggplant, potatoes, red and green peppers – contain a component that ramps up your body’s reaction to inflammation. Help your body ease inflammation by avoiding these foods.
4. Add foods and supplements that calm symptoms. “For arthritis, add powerful healing foods to your diet like garlic, ginger and turmeric, which have natural inflammatory properties.” suggests Zabol. “Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines are naturally abundant in these ingredients. Bone broth also helps reduce inflammation. Supplements like glucosamine, curcumin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) are really good for treating chronic pain. They don’t take away the arthritis, but it retards the process,” says Zabol. You need to keep taking these supplements to maintain their effect.
5. Weight reduction. “If you have arthritis and are overweight or obese, weight loss can be a treatment option for joint pain, as it reduces stress on the body,” Zabol confirms. “The components to achieve weight loss, like eating the right amount of food and exercising, are also the same elements that help reduce inflammation.”
6. Stay active gently. “Exercise helps keep the muscles around joints strong. Weak muscles provide less support to the joints, increasing the stresses placed upon them. Physical activity also helps with weight loss efforts,” says Zabol, “and you don’t have to create more pain to get a fitness gain.” Her advice is to find a gentle, pleasing movement and engage with it daily. Recommended activities include stretching exercises such as yoga and Pilates, which helps to maintain range of motion in your joints, and tai chi, which is sufficiently low-impact to be easy on the joints. Also consider swimming and/or aqua fitness classes at your local pool.
7. Decrease stress. “Stress, because it depletes the immune system, makes everything worse,” adds Zabol, “so if there’s anything opportunistic going on in your body, it will become more opportunistic because your immune system will be weakened. Get enough sleep, try meditation, exercise and work on being positive.”