How herbalism treats arthritis
The main distinction between osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is that OA relates to wear and tear of the cartilage cushioning the joints whereas RA is an autoimmune disorder affecting the synovial membrane surrounding the joints. One key difference in presentation involves symmetry: OA tends to affect only one joint or side of the body while RA usually impacts both sides of the body. RA can also go along with other autoimmune symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women.
Despite the differences between OA and RA, both involve inflammation and muscle spasm and tension, and can be treated accordingly.
Postural work is helpful, as is stretching and gentle exercise to support the joints. Some herbalists recommend warm Epsom salt baths twice weekly.
Diet can be a major lever in making either type of arthritis manageable. It is recommended to cut out processed food, dairy, wheat and sugar which can cause or exacerbate inflammation. It is also important to include food and teas that support bone health and the joints, such as mushrooms and seaweeds in general and in particular, nettles, which are anti-inflammatory, expel uric acid and aid re-mineralisation, and omega-3 fatty acids in oils such as linseed, hemp and pumpkin seed, to nourish and lubricate the joints.
(Please note that this section is about the theory of herbs and should not be taken as any form of medical advice)
For internal use, the following herbs could be made into teas or tinctures: filipendula, salix, betula cimicifuga and similar salicylate-rich herbs for acute pain relief. These along with rumex crispus would also help clear out acids that accumulate in the joints.
Anti-spasmodic herbs would help with muscle stiffness and pain, particularly viburnum opulus and scutellaria laterifolia.
Crategus would aid circulation of the blood and echinacea with movement of the lymph.
Since arthritis is often exacerbated by cold and damp, xanthox and guaiacum (lignum vitae) are good herbs to use for their warming and drying effect.
For connective tissue repair, anthocyanin-rich herbs such as blackberry leaf, raspberry leaf, and bilberry can be added into teas or tinctures (or eaten as fruits).
Externally applied, the following essential oils can address the pain from spasm, when added to bath salts or massage oil: tea tree, rosemary, lavender, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, geranium, cinnamon.