5 Alternative Therapies for Chemo-Related Arthritis and Arthralgia

Research from the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management demonstrates that chemotherapy can cause mild to severe joint pain and inflammation, collectively known as chemo-induced arthritis and arthralgia. These conditions can impact a cancer patient’s quality of life by causing discomfort, limiting mobility, making it difficult to cope with ongoing treatments, and slowly impairing overall capacity to perform daily activities. According to a 2020 research paper titled Everyday Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis, chores like cooking, cleaning, gardening, doing laundry, and engaging in recreational activities become more challenging as the disease progresses.

The conventional treatment options for post-chemotherapy rheumatism and arthralgia involve pharmaceutical painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids are leading examples. However, these medications can have adverse effects, including but not limited to stomach pain and ulcers, indigestion, headaches, nausea, fatigue, fluid retention, and allergic reactions. In rare cases, NSAIDs can also obstruct the functions of the liver, kidneys, and heart.

In response, cancer patients and healthcare professionals are exploring alternative therapies as potential adjunctive or standalone approaches. But are they effective?

Here, New Hope Unlimited explores the effectiveness of alternative therapies for chemo-related arthritis and arthralgia, highlighting existing clinical research on the subject.


Alternative Therapies for Joint Pain Due to Chemotherapy 

Alternative treatment options for arthritis and arthralgia involve non-pharmaceutical techniques to relieve symptoms and improve overall well-being. Specialists in complementary cancer treatments, including Our Team, use these holistic techniques in combination or as substitutes to conventional care for reduced side effects.


Natural Arthritis Pain Relievers, According to Science

Medication is not the only option. The most common alternative therapies for chemo-induced joint pain include the following:


1. Acupuncture for Arthritis

A form of complementary medicine, this ancient Chinese practice involves inserting thin needles in specific points of the body. It stimulates the flow of life energy, or Qi, along pathways referred to as meridians. Acupuncture restores balance, alleviating pain and addressing various physical and mental conditions.

In a comprehensive review published in 2018, acupuncture, either used alone or in combination with other treatments, showed promise in improving the clinical outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers observed benefits in terms of enhanced function and improved quality of life. They identified many contributing mechanisms, such as acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects, and ability to regulate immune system functions. Research published in early 2023 noted similar results, concluding that acupuncture has the potential to alleviate arthritis-induced pain and inflammation by regulating the immune and nervous systems.


2. Therapeutic Massage for Arthritis

A therapeutic massage involves the manual manipulation of soft tissues, including muscles and joints, to relieve pain and improve mobility in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Specifically, evidence suggests that a Swedish massage can lessen pain and minimize the need for painkillers. A 2018 trial involving 200 individuals with knee osteoarthritis also concluded that receiving a one-hour whole-body massage on a weekly basis significantly reduced pain and improved mobility within eight weeks compared to others who received standard care.

New Hope Unlimited recommends working with an NCBTMB-approved provider specializing in moderate-pressure massage, as arthritis joints can be sensitive.


3. Tai Chi for Arthritis

Tai chi is an ancient martial arts practice with multiple health and wellness benefits. It improves balance, manages stress and anxiety, and soothes arthritis pain. Tai chi can also help with knee pain, lower back pain, and fibromyalgia (widespread body pain) in cancer patients, according to Susan Yaguda, RN, MSN, in Conquer Magazine.

In an article published by the Arthritis Foundation, Matthew Bosman of Palm Springs, California, shared his experience with tai chi. Bosman, 38 at the time, began taking tai chi classes following back surgery. The invasive procedure, coupled with his history of osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis, made him incapable of maintaining his strenuous exercise regimen. Bosman resorted to tai chi, which is low-impact, painless, and calming. He takes two 45-minute tai chi lessons a week, helping him maintain a healthy mind and body.

A 2021 systematic review also revealed that 40 to 60 minutes of thrice‐weekly supervised tai chi training for 8 to 12 weeks improved fatigue and sleep quality in cancer survivors.


4. Yoga for Arthritis

Harnessing the connection between body and mind, yoga is an ancient meditative practice that involves physical poses, deep breathing, and concentration.

Yoga can be beneficial for cancer patients and survivors with chemo-related arthritis, as studies show promising improvements in joint health, physical functioning, and emotional well-being. It is important, however, to practice yoga under the guidance of a certified instructor, as well as to avoid difficult positions to avoid injuries.

Learn more about the role of yoga in cancer care here.


5. Dietary Supplementation for Arthritis

Nutritional supplements may have the potential to support joint health and pain management. In particular, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties may help alleviate arthritis pain in cancer patients.

Known as the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin blocks certain enzymes and cytokines that cause inflammation. Since turmeric in its natural form is safe, it could be a good addition to the diets of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Research also shows that curcumin supplements may prevent cancer development, slow cancer progression, enhance treatment outcomes, and protect healthy cells from radiation damage.


A Word of Advice Before Considering Alternatives

Although alternative treatment options for arthritis offer potential benefits, they may not work as standalone treatments. Many healthcare professionals recommend combining these techniques as part of a more comprehensive and integrated approach to managing chemo-related arthritis and arthralgia. Collaborate with a licensed rheumatologist to ascertain the safe, effective, and appropriate integration of these alternative therapies into a personalized treatment plan.


The Bottom Line

Alternative treatment strategies for arthritis offer promising avenues for pain management and symptom relief. In particular, in various clinical trials, acupuncture, therapeutic massage therapy, tai chi, meditative yoga, and dietary supplementation have demonstrated their strong potential to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, increase mobility, and enhance day-to-day living. Just remember to approach these alternatives with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Specialists in these respective fields can assess a patient’s unique circumstances and provide recommendations, maximizing treatment advantages and minimizing risks.

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