Arthritis - the homeopathic & herbal approach

Homeopathy and herbal medicine can be simple and very effective therapies for people with arthritis. Well-known UK homeopath, Ian Watson, found homeopathy to be so successful in helping people with musculo-skeletal problems (including arthritis) in his clinic, that he published a book on the subject (Aspects of Homeopathy: Musculo-Skeletal Problems).

There are many types of ‘arthritis’, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis. There’s also rheumatism, fibromyalgia, polymyalgia, gout, gouty arthritis, Raynaud’s Disease. Then there’s “I have stiff knees”, “I’m aching all over but my Doctor says I’m fine”, “I’m not moving as well as I used to”, “the cold weather’s getting to me”, and so on.

What type do you have? Does it fit into a neat box?

To a homeopath or herbalist, a diagnosis of “arthritis” is just the start, not the end point.

There is no ‘medicine for arthritis’. Rather, the approach we take is to understand the unique physiological makeup of the person who has the arthritis and its characterising symptoms, as it uniquely expresses in that person. Bundled into this is assessing any causal factors: Is it an inherited familial trait? Is it the result of an old sports injury? Has it been triggered by hormonal changes during menopause? Does it happen before rain?

To illustrate the approach, imagine two people that have received a diagnosis of ‘osteoarthritis’. The first person experiences stiffness and pain in the morning upon waking, which gets progressively better throughout the day as he moves the joints and ‘limbers up’. For the second person, his arthritis symptoms worsen the more he moves; he only gets relief when he is still. This is just the start - the homeopath/herbalist then also looks for other unique, guiding symptoms and/or conditions that together define the overall pattern of illness. A medicine is chosen on the basis of this overall pattern.

For example, Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) may be prescribed for someone with rheumatic arthritis, who also experiences menstrual irregularities, faulty digestion and experiences migraines with changes in weather (especially before rain).

The following cases help illustrate how this works in practice

Years ago an old dairy farmer came in with debilitating arthritis in his spine. He was on a waiting list for surgery, scheduled six months down the track, but he was having great difficulty managing his pain during the wait (even with strong pain suppressant medication). His arthritis was the result of multiple old injuries, including a broken back, from earlier in his life. Homeopathic Symphytum, which is often indicated in injuries or trauma to the skeletal system (no matter how old), successfully provided the relief he needed to manage the pain until his surgery.

Another man presented to the clinic with painful osteoarthritis in his big toe joints, which had become progressively worse throughout his fifties. His toe joints had advanced osteophyte formation (bony bumps). He was worried because he had booked an overseas hiking trip with his wife later in the year, and already his movement was becoming restricted; was there anything that could be done? Conventional wisdom would say “not in such a case”; the advanced state of his joint deformation didn't fill me with hope that he’d be trekking ever again. His experienced of ‘osteoarthritis’ was as follows: pain and stiffness, worse in the morning upon waking, alleviated by heat and movement (gradually better as the day went on), much worse in cold weather and especially when it was cold and wet. His diet was good; there were no old injuries, no other major stresses in his life. I prescribed the homeopathic medicine Rhus tox to be taken daily. He came back to see me for follow a couple of months later and I don't know who was more surprised. Not only had his arthritis symptoms (pain & stiffness) considerably improved, but the osteoarthritic growths on his toe joints had reduced by 60%. He continued to take the medicine and comfortably completed his overseas trek later that year. I saw him again a couple of years later as the problem had started to worsen again - because he had stopped taking the medicine as he had felt so much better. Resuming the medicine got him back on track. This is a good example of how chronic conditions need to be worked with over time.