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Combating Arthritis

It has been some time since I’ve written a post for this blog.  That’s partly because winter is hard on my body, and partly because again this year, I was hit by the flu, and it took me down pretty hard for more than a month.  The flu and other logistical problems wreaked havoc with my plan to have my daughter give me a series of laser bio-stimulation treatments on my arthritic joints.  I have only been able to have four treatments starting in February, two in the week before I got sick, and two in the last two weeks since I’ve been well enough to go to Reno for them.

For those who are interested in alternative treatments to arthritis, I’m going to go into more detail about how these laser bio-stim treatments have worked for me, and I’ll end with an account of the dietary things I’ve been doing to reduce inflammation.

First, a bit more about the laser itself.  It is a garnet laser made by Periolase, used primarily for micro-surgery in my daughter’s periodontal practice.  But with the proper settings and held at the right distance, the laser is capable of stimulating tissue.  “Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is typically used for therapeutic and/or stimulating skin treatments and involves lower laser power doses than those generally used in surgical operations. In surgery, lasers are used to cut, coagulate and vaporize. Various types of lasers and pulse energies are used based on the absorption properties of the target tissue” (https://www.modulight.com/applications-medical).  My daughter has been carefully monitoring the amount of energy, measured in joules, which the laser puts into my joints.  She’s been putting about 2000 joules into my larger joints, like my neck, shoulder, elbow, and knee, and between 750 and 1000 joules into my thumb, finger, and toe joints, and the area around my heel affected by plantar fasciitis.

I noticed that after the first two treatments, done with a day’s rest in between, my hands were very sore for two days.  Then, after two days of rest, they improved quite dramatically.  The joints that are already badly damaged did not feel much different, but the joints in my index fingers that had just begun to show inflammatory changes over the winter were pain-free for two weeks following the first two treatments.  This confirmed my hunch that the laser bio-stim treatment would be most effective at stopping or retarding the inflammatory process at the beginning, before it had a chance to do much damage.  (Once the joint has developed bone spurs and the cartilage has broken down, I don’t think anything can restore it.) The same was true for my big toe joints, which had just begun to hurt this winter. They felt much better after the two day rest period.  As for my neck and shoulder, there was quite a bit of improvement almost immediately, and neither neck nor shoulder has been as painful since the treatment.  My elbow has been painful since my right shoulder surgery three years ago.  Having to keep my arm bent in a sling for 8 weeks post-surgery caused inflammation to set into my elbow.  My knowledge of anatomy is insufficient to name the joint, but it is the lower or inside joint that is painful, and the inflammation sometimes spreads along the tendons and muscles for an inch or more.  The laser treatment each time has made this joint significantly more tender at first, but then has provided significant relief after the rest period.  While the treatment also seems to relieve some pain in my knee, my heel did not respond as well to the laser bio-stim.  By that, I mean I saw little difference in pain levels after the treatment.  Whether this is because inflammation is of long standing there (going on ten years now) and has already done its damage, or for some other reason, I don’t know.  I expected it to help more than it did, because as I believe I reported before, the moxa treatment my massage therapist gave me a few months ago helped tremendously for quite a while. I think it might be time for another moxa treatment.

The plan now is for me to try to get in at least one laser treatment a week, if possible.  We’ll see if a long-term approach has more cumulative effect.  But for now, I feel hopeful that the laser offers a chance to stop inflammation from damaging more of my joints, particularly in my hands and feet.  It’s very frightening to contemplate more loss of movement in my hands.  It also seems to provide some pain relief and greater ease of movement in the larger joints, so maybe in time, I’ll see more improvement there also.

I’ve also been doing some dietary things to counter inflammation.  Last fall, I had an EGD (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy) to see why I had so much acid reflux and stomach spasms, even while taking Nexium to counter the symptoms of GERD.  The doctor said that Nexium was keeping me from developing ulcers again, but that my stomach was very inflamed.  He said it would be best for my stomach to stop taking all anti-inflammatory drugs.  I was at that time on a low dose of Celebrex, but I could only take it once or twice a week because of how much it bothered my stomach.  I didn’t think I’d be able to stand the increased arthritis pain, but I decided I had to try stopping Celebrex. It’s been years since I’ve been able to take ibuprofen or any other anti-inflammatory medication (after taking them all for decades), and I thought Celebrex was my last stop-gap measure to keep all my joints from breaking down completely from inflammation, the resulting bones spurs, and the subsequent tearing and breakdown of cartilage. But I thought I had to try for my stomach’s sake, so I did stop taking Celebrex completely in late December or January.

At the same time, I decided to start drinking tart red cherry juice daily.  It’s good for gout, and while I don’t have it, gout is an inflammatory condition similar to arthritis.  (By the way, after extensive testing, my rheumatologist called what I have erosive osteoarthritis because it is eroding my joints all over my body at the same time the way rheumatoid arthritis does.) I really didn’t know if cherry juice would help, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt.  And to my surprise, it does help.  I drink at least ½ cup of tart red cherry juice every day, and it really helps my knee and shoulder.  I am able to move these joints better and with less pain.  If I run out of juice or skip a couple of days, I can really tell the difference, especially in my knee.

Lots of people swear by turmeric.  A couple of years back, I tried some caplets from Costco with curcumin and black pepper extract (which activates the curcumin extracted from turmeric), but they bothered my stomach, so I stopped taking them.  I try to include turmeric in my diet whenever possible, although it is hard to say whether those small amounts help.  Golden milk, a hot drink made with the milk of your choice, turmeric, honey, and other spices, is one way to get turmeric daily, but I don’t do it daily.  I usually don’t want to drink something hot and sweet before bed.  However, my stomach has improved so much in the past four months without anti-inflammatory drugs, I am about ready to try the curcumin compound again and see if I have better luck with it this time.

I have also started taking collagen in powdered and tablet form.  Cartilage is composed of several types of collagen.  Some folks believe that ingesting collagen can help strengthen cartilage.  (Some don’t—there are believers and non-believers for everything!)  Some people regularly make and drink bone broths for the collagen component.  (That meat jelly you get after you’ve cooked down a chicken carcass for soup or boiled any kind of bones or meat with cartilage, then cooled it, is gelatin, which is cooked collagen. And if chicken soup is curative, gelatin/collagen is probably the reason.)  Collagen is also supposed to improve the condition of skin, hair, and nails.  In addition, according to some doctors, ingesting collagen can help with “leaky gut syndrome.”  Yep, that’s exactly what it sounds like, and I can only be grateful I don’t have those symptoms!  I have only been taking collagen for a couple of weeks, so I can’t say whether or not it has helped my joints.  My guess is that if it does, it’ll take some time.  But again, taking collagen won’t hurt, so why not try it?  If I lose a few wrinkles in the trying, I won’t complain about that!  I found powdered collagen at our health food store, the Health Nut in Susanville, and I found collagen tablets at Costco in Reno.

The other thing I have done is to start drinking an anti-inflammatory tea every night.  The arthritis tea contains nettle, alfalfa, horsetail, and gotu kola. I get these herbs in bulk at our health food store (and boy, am I grateful we have such a good store in our little town), and mix equal parts with a pinch or two of mint to offset the grass-flavor.  You can drink 3-4 cups a day of this mix for a month, according to my nurse/herbalist friend who gave me the ingredients list, then evaluate progress. I can’t drink that much of anything a day except water, so I have started adding a tea ball full of this mix with the sage tea mix I use to keep those nasty hot flashes and night sweats manageable. I brew up a big pot of this menopause/anti-inflammatory tea each week and keep it in a glass jug in the fridge.  I like to drink it cold just before bed.

I cannot tell if this tea mix helps anything but hot flashes (and it does help with those if anyone is interested in learning more about sage for hot flashes), but it cannot hurt, and maybe, in addition to the laser treatments, the cherry juice, the curcumin compound, and the collagen, it will be another weapon in my fight against arthritic inflammation.

Although it has been about 4 months since I last took a Celebrex, I can say, and this is a biggie, that my arthritic pain and inflammation is no worse than it was while I was taking Celebrex, and at times, it is better than it was when I was on Celebrex.  And my stomach is so much better now, I can even drink a glass of wine in the evenings now if I want to, without ill effect.  So overall, I feel better.  I hope this recounting helps those of you who also want to try alternative methods of combating arthritis.  If you have questions or if there are other things you’ve tried that help, please do leave a comment.

 

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