My Favorite Alternative Therapies for Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

I have tried dozens of alternative therapies for pain management over the years.

Here are six that have made a huge difference in managing my chronic RA complications.

Trigger point therapy

Trigger point therapy, also called myofascial release or self-massage, involves applying pressure to areas of tension and tightness in order to release them and relieve pain.

A few years ago, I took a class all about different trigger points at my Pilates studio and was hooked. We used a trigger point ball, foam roller, and acupressure mat to work different areas of the body.

At the end of the class, my body felt so relaxed.

Not only does this type of therapy loosen muscles or stress spots, but it can soothe joint pain and stiffness.

The best part is you can do this from the comfort of your home.

Massage therapy

I used to think massage therapy was just for relaxation. It was something everyone seemed to enjoy, but I never knew how powerful it could be for RA pain.

About 3 years ago, I went to a licensed massage therapist for back pain. She spent an hour working out all the pain and stress, but also spent time with the muscles around my joints.

She specialized in RA massage and even did hand massage. If you can find someone who knows about RA, you will be amazed at how wonderful you feel after a massage.

Now that I have a toddler I don’t go as often, but I used to go once a month to keep up with pain.


Many people with RA told me to try acupuncture. I was skeptical, but I went for 10 weeks of sessions last fall and saw noticeable differences in pain around my knees.

It specifically helped the aching inflammatory pain. I documented my full experience on my blog because it wasn’t a straightforward process for me. I think it’s important to know it might not work right away.

I have talked with many people with RA who have made acupuncture part of their pain management routine because it helps them so much.

Topical pain relief creams

There are many types of pain relief creams on the market, but I have a few types that have helped me:

  • essential oil-based creams (both homemade and store-bought)
  • heated CBD cream
  • diclofenac (Voltaren) gel

Voltaren gel used to require a prescription but is now available over-the- counter. My rheumatologist prescribed it many years ago, but now I just pick it up at the pharmacy.

I use all of these for joint pain and swelling, and it helps so much — especially during a flare.

Just remember to do your research on products containing CBD and essential oils to be sure you’re using high quality versions. It’s also good to patch test on your skin to check for allergies.

Physical therapy

All of the rheumatologists I have gone to over the last 15 years have prescribed physical therapy at some point. I am so happy I’ve taken their recommendations.

Physical therapists typically diagnose muscle weaknesses or issues with movement, then go from there. They work with you on joint-specific exercises, depending on your abilities, and teach you how to do each movement.

I went to physical therapy 11 years ago for my left knee, and I still see the benefits from going. I continue to keep up with the exercises to keep the muscles around the joints strong and working properly.

Occupational therapy may also be useful. Occupational therapists can help with preventive care for your everyday activities. Therapists that specialize in hand therapy can help you find ways to decrease stress and injury in your joints.

TENS unit

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units send small electrical currents to targeted areas of the body for pain relief.

I was first introduced to the TENS unit as part of physical therapy for my knee. I’ve since purchased one to use at home and it has proven to be one of the most beneficial therapies for managing RA pain.

I use it on my knees, elbows, hands, and even the back area.

The bottom line

In addition to regularly consulting with rheumatologists and taking the proper medication, these alternative therapies have helped me tremendously over the last 15 years of living with RA.

They have improved my quality of life and made living with chronic RA pain more manageable.

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