Arthritis is not a single disease but a formal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease featuring inflammation. It can affect one joint or multiple joints. Western medicine recognizes more than 100 different types of arthritis, with different causes and treatment methods. In this article, we’ll consider two prominent types of arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis) and Ayurveda, which has an alternative approach. If you have joint pain and are looking for arthritis pain relief, consider how Ayurveda may help you reestablish health.
Ayurvedic medicine is a complete medical system of India. It offers dietary suggestions, Ayurvedic herbal support, body therapies and remedies to improve health and wellbeing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2017 Vital Signs, announced data estimating that 54.4 million U.S. adults suffer from arthritis. That equates to about 25% of the population. By 2040, an estimated 78 million (26%) U.S. adults ages 18 years or older are projected to have doctor-diagnosed arthritis.1
People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older.
Types Of Arthritis
Based on Ayurvedic principles of the Tridosha or the three physiological forces operating in the body (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), arthritis can be broadly categorized into three types.
- Vata dominant type: Sandhivata (osteoarthritis)
- Pitta dominant type: Vatarakta (gout)
- Kapha (or ama) dominant type: Amavata (rheumatoid arthritis)
Out of these three, two are the most common types: osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that results when the cartilage surrounding the joints begins to wear down. The degeneration of cartilage causes the bone to rub against each other, leading to joint pain and stiffness. It is more painful in weight bearing joints such as the knee, hip and spine.
READ MORE: 29 Marma Points For Pain Relief
Rheumatoid Arthritis (Amavata)
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that is a result of inflammation of the membranes that make up the joint tissue lining. It causes joint pain, stiffness and the joints are often warm to the touch. This commonly occurs in the joints of the hands and feet. Here in this type immune system of the body is affected. It causes irreversible joint damage.
READ MORE: Marma Points Of The Feet
Arthritis Do’s And Don’ts
- Take timely meals and easy digestible foods and vegetables like squashes and zucchinis, bottle gourd, snake gourd, ridge gourd and drum sticks (moringa).
- Eat foods which will strengthen the bones, muscles and cartilages involved in the joint.
- Freshly cooked and hot food should be consumed as part of your regular diet. Hot soups of lentils, pulses and meat should be taken with powdered ginger, garlic and black pepper. Use cumin, coriander, asafoetida, garlic, fennel and turmeric in food preparation.
- Dates soaked in cow’s ghee and figs are good sources for bone nourishment.
- Moderate exercise like leisurely walking can be done regularly to avoid stiffness of joints.
- Bowels should be emptied regularly to prevent aggravation of Vata dosha. One teaspoon of castor oil taken with warm milk before meals relieves constipation and also pacifies Vata.
- Avoid oily, spicy, fermented, junk and canned foods.
- Avoid exerting strain on the joints. This can cause further damage to degenerated bones.
- Avoid exposure to cold conditions or intake of cold water, aerated drinks and ice creams.
- Avoid Vata aggravating foods like excess beans, spinach, chickpeas, kidney beans, potatoes and cluster beans.
READ MORE: Vata Diet: Everything You Need To Know
* The below-mentioned herbs should be taken only after consulting a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner or health care provider.
- Guggulu (Commiphora mukul) is the most commonly used herbal extract in Amavata
- Herbal preparations of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
- Rasna (Pluchea lanceolata)
- Sunthi (Ginger)
- Pippali (Long pepper or piper longum)
- Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris)
- Trivrit (Operculina turpethum)
In addition, administration of castor oil is also very widely used in management of arthritis. Check with your health care provider or a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner to learn the supplements best for you.
Panchakarma is a purification process. By undergoing this therapy, the body’s toxins are believed to be eliminated through the body’s natural orifices. These traditional Ayurvedic therapies are used by many practitioners in India for the management of arthritis. It includes two pre-panchakarma procedures, application of oil in the form of external and internal oleation (snehana) and fomentation (swedana) as well as the five main panchakarma procedures which are as follows.
Please note these therapies should only be performed under the guidance of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner or health care provider.
- Vaman (therapeutic vomiting which is a medicated emesis)
- Virechana (medicated purgation therapy)
- Niruha Basti (decoction enema)
- Anuvasana Basti (oil enema)
- Nasya (nasal insufflation)
In many cases where the vitiation of blood is involved, raktamokshana (bloodletting) the sixth purification process is also used. In the United States, modified versions of panchakarma are performed to improve one’s state of health.
Although these purification processes are used in various conditions of arthritis, the use of the poorva-karma or pre-panchakarma procedures are very popularly used and are quite effective in making the joints more supple, improving quality of life. Among these procedures, massaging the joints with herbal oils is most important and is used in many stages of arthritis of various types, except for acute stages of Amavata.
Ayurvedic Massage (Abhyanga)
Ayurvedic massage involves external oleation of the affected joints with classical (following traditional recipes) herbal oil. Oil massage helps in removing stiffness and improves blood circulation, giving strength to the joints and appendages. The abhyanga can be local on the affected joint or limb or on the whole body following the instruction of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner.26
Abhyanga in Vata dominant arthritis:
This type of pain is treated by massaging the joint, limb or whole body with warm oil along with the application of heat for 20 minutes. Vata pacifying oils like Mahanarayana oil, Bala or Ashwagandha mixed in sesame oil or just sesame oil can be used. Light to medium pressure is used for a slow and soft massage.
Abhyanga in Pitta dominant arthritis:
This type of pain is treated with an oil massage at room temperature. Oils with Pitta and Vata pacifying properties such as coconut oil, olive oil, and other herbal oils like manjistha and bala as well as Pinda thailam are used. Light pressure is used for a soft massage.
Abhyanga in Kapha dominant arthritis:
This type of pain is treated with a hot oil massage along with application of heat for 20 minutes. This is followed by a dry powder massage using herbs such as ginger and calamus that generate heat and ‘digest’ the ama. The oils used could be a blend of sesame and mustard oil or a mixture of sesame and olive oil. The massage is done comparatively vigorously with pressure which the person can withstand.
Do Ayurvedic Herbal Oils Help Arthritis?
Various oils may be applied to the skin in order to help the body clear toxins, relieve stiffness and restore mobility. Abhyanga and sarvangadhara (another form of intensive oleation that involves irrigation of the affected area with oil) can be done with the same oil.
Below are some Ayurvedic herbal oils used traditionally in arthritis.
READ MORE: Ayurvedic Oil: Everything You Need To Know
1. Nirgundi Taila
Nirgundi taila is known for its anti-histamine properties and muscle relaxant properties. It acts as a mild topical analgesic and helps in inducing sound sleep.2 It is a classical Ayurvedic preparation.
A research study showed that Nirgundi Taila applied locally on affected joints, with Dashamoola Ghrita with meal internally, twice a day with warm water for two months showed symptomatic improvement at various levels with better results.3
READ MORE: Golden Milk For Joints, Does It Work?
2. Panchamuladi Taila
Panchamuladi taila is proved to be an effective therapy in rheumatoid arthritis. It reduces Vata dosha and ama (the chief pathological factors). It lead to destruction of the cause of Amavata and hence, highly significant results were achieved in all the cardinal symptoms.4
3. Rasna Taila
Rasna taila is bitter in taste (tikta rasa) and hot in potency (ushna veerya). It combats both Kapha and Vata dosha, and so it may relieve stiffness and pain associated with low back pain and sciatica. According to the Ayurvedic sage Charaka it is potentially analgesic and relieves inflammation and regional swelling (shotha hara) since it is one of the amahara herbs and expels unwanted metabolites and detoxifies the system. Amahara herbs give relieve of indigenous toxins called ama, which is thought to be the precursor of many inflammatory processes in the body by many scholars of Ayurveda.5
4. Ksheerabala Taila
Ksheerabala taila is made of three ingredients. Ksheera is cow’s milk, bala is an herb named Sida Cordifolia and taila is sesame oil. According to the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Vagbhata, this oil helps in health conditions marked by Vata aggravation. It is a foremost rejuvenator, bestows comfort to the sense organs, enlivens and strengthens the body. It is also thought to be helpful for good voice, as well as helpful in dispelling disorders of the semen and blood.6
5. Gandha Taila
According to the Ayurvedic scholar Vagbhata, this oil is good for bestowing sturdiness to the bones. It is helpful in diseases produced by Vata and Pitta dosha. It can be used both externally and internally as nasya.7
6. Eranda Taila (Castor Oil)
Eranda taila (castor oil) is heavy, oily and sharp qualities. It is a known laxative and a study shows that ricinoleic present in castor oil has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. According to the Ayurvedic classical text Bhaisajya Ratnavali, it is helpful in pacifying vata. Regular use aggravates pitta and kapha. However, external use as a poultice may be used for all three doshas when combined with appropriate herbs. Poultices or oils may be applied directly to the painful joints. In arthritis, a small amount of castor oil may be taken daily for a few weeks. It is useful in Gridhrasi (sciatica) and Urugraha (stiffness in thighs).8
7. Rasona Taila (Garlic Oil)
A research study shows that garlic contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-inflammatory compound that limits the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It was concluded that garlic may help fight the pain, inflammation and cartilage damage of arthritis.24
Garlic can be used orally also as an aid. It is recommended to take it with warm milk. It can be useful in all Vata roga, health conditions affected by Vata dosha.9
8. Bala Taila
According to phytotherapy research, sida cordifolia has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be useful in wounds as well as inflammation.25
According to the Ayurvedic classical text Bhaisajya Ratnavali, oils that are prepared using Bala are very useful in Vata conditions and various other diseases that affect the joints. The herb is used externally for massage. It is helpful in all kinds of arthritis (vata roga), is rejuvenating and increases fertility in both males and females. It is helpful for fractures, exhaustion, cough, tumor (antra vriddhi), hernia and reforms the dhatus (body tissues).10
9. Mahanarayan Taila
Mahanarayan taila is one of the most trusted and most widely used massage oils in Ayurvedic therapy for its Vata pacifying effect. For centuries, mahanarayan oil has been used in Ayurveda for Vata balancing. It is a rich combination of Vata pacifying Ayurvedic herbs. They produce no irritation on skin application and can be helpful in arresting further progress of chronic Vata changes like joint pain and stiffness, restricted movement and distortion. It aids in restoring normal joint function.
According to the Ayurvedic classical text Bhaisajya Ratnavali, it can be used in every way – orally, nasya (nasal insufflation), abhyanga (body massage) and vasti (enema). It can be helpful in all kinds of arthritis (vata roga). Apply a little warm oil on the joints, massage softly until complete penetration. Massage morning and evening, at least for 5 minutes on the affected parts. Additionally, it helps in beautification, rejuvenation and is an aphrodisiac.11
A study was conducted to evaluate the anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-arthritic activities of Mahanarayana taila in laboratory animals. The analgesic effect as compared to the control was found to be significant (P<0.01) and almost equal to the standard drug. Anti-arthritis activity of the oil was observed almost equal to the standard drug used in the study. Histopathology of ankle joint revealed that Piroxicam as well as Mahanarayana taila inhibits inflammation in the treated animals. These observations suggest that Mahanarayana taila may be used to treat inflammation, pain and arthritis.27
Do Essential Oils Help Arthritis?
Apart from the above mentioned traditional herbal oils, essential oils may be helpful too. Essential oils are natural plant products, most of which possess antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Essential oils are directly absorbed into the blood bypassing the digestive system. This allow them to offer immediate relief and makes them highly effective at pain management, controlling inflammation and calming the nervous system.28
The U.S. National Library of Medicine shares this report and notes a study that used topical application of an ointment containing essential oils that decreased the severity of arthritis. Furthermore, this suppression of arthritis involved changes in the disease-related immunological and biochemical mediators of inflammation.12
Here are some beneficial essential oils for arthritis.
1. Ginger Oil
Ginger oil contains chemicals with analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. It’s been shown to help lessen pain associated with arthritis, making it a great pain reliever.
The Arthritis Foundation reports a study from the University of Miami that concluded that ginger extract could be a substitute to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The study compared the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to placebo in 247 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. The ginger reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent over the placebo. That is a big difference and one worth nothing!13
2. Peppermint Oil
A study found that peppermint oil has excellent anti-inflammatory properties along with an anaesthetic effect that helps in relieving the pain and swelling associated with arthritic conditions, rheumatoid arthritis in particular.14
Mix 5-10 drops of peppermint oil with two tablespoons of warmed coconut oil to make a ready-to-use salve. Be sure to do a patch test to determine if allergies are present before smearing the oil on your body. It can be mixed with other oils in this section to get a more potent anti-arthritic formulation. Provided you have no reaction in the patch test, use as often as needed for relief of pain.
3. Turmeric Oil
The most active ingredient in turmeric curcumin,15 has become known as a great anti-inflammatory. Turmeric benefits include being highly effective at helping people manage rheumatoid arthritis.
A recent study out of Japan evaluated its relationship with interleukin (IL)-6, the inflammatory cytokine16 known to be involved in the rheumatoid arthritis process. It was discovered that curcumin significantly reduced inflammation. This evidence suggests that regular turmeric use could be a powerful way to combat the development of rheumatoid arthritis.17
READ MORE: Easy Turmeric Latte Recipe + Benefits
4. Chamomile Oil
Chamomile oil comes in two forms, German and Roman. According to an NCBI study, both are equally good and have anti-phlogistic and anti-rheumatic properties that regulate the blood circulation and detoxify the blood. Regular massage with this oil breaks the uric acid deposits around the joint and relieves the pain.18
5. Eucalyptus Oil
According to a study at a Korean University, eucalyptus oil is antiseptic, anti-spasmodic and anti- inflammatory in nature. Being very volatile in nature, eucalyptus needs to be diluted in the ratio of 1:1 with any carrier oil. Apply the eucalyptus and carrier oil mixture over the affected area in circular motions and on reflex points to relieve joint and muscle pain caused by arthritis.19
6. Myrrh Oil
The anti-inflammatory effect of myrrh has been extensively studied and is found to be equivalent to the NSAIDS used for treating arthritis. Myrrh oil mixed with olive oil can be applied to the affected joints. It reduces swelling in the limbs by lowering levels of an inflammatory substance called leukotaxine. This substance is usually produced when tissues are injured.20
7. Frankincense Oil
An NCBI study cited in a pubmed article, noted that apart from being a potent anti-inflammatory agent, frankincense oil acts as mild sedative. It relieves pain and stress, and can inhibit the production of key inflammatory molecules associated with conditions like arthritis. It can be useful in helping to prevent the breakdown of the cartilage tissue.21
8. Orange Oil
The strong anti-inflammatory properties of orange oil have been researched in regard to their effects for helping fight pain. A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Medical Research investigated the antioxidant potential of various essential oils, reporting that orange was the most highly effective of those studied, which in turn makes it a great essential oil for arthritis treatment.22
Maximize the therapeutic effect by combining different essential oils.
A combination of two or more essential oils may provide even more pain relief than individual ones. You can combine different essential oils to make an arthritis busting personal formula to suit your needs. Be sure to do a patch test to check for allergic reaction before using in full.
IMPORTANT: Essential oils are highly concentrated, so they should be diluted appropriately with carrier oils like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil and sweet almond oil. Mix them in melted beeswax to get an ointment-like consistency that makes it easier to carry around.
3. Dholakiya, Dhaval M., et al. “Clinical Evaluation of Nirgundi Taila and Dashmoola Ghrita in the Management of Sandhigata Vata (Osteoarthritis).” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, www.myresearchjournals.com/index.php/JAIMS/article/view/7694.
4. Baria, Rajneesh, et al. “Clinical Efficacy of Panchamuladi Kaala Basti (Enema) in the Management of Amavata (Rheumatoid Arthritis).” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3215425/.
5. Ramkaran Sharma, Charaka Samhita, Volume 5, Vatavyadhi (28),Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office,Varanasi,Verse 165-166, pg-63.
6. Ashtanga Hrudayam Vatarakta Chikitsa 22/45-46.
7. Ashtanga Hrudayam Uttara Sthana 27/36 – 41 – Bhanga Pratishedha Adhyaya.
8. Sidhhinandan Mishra , Bhaisajyaratnavali, Vatarogadhikar(26), Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan , Varanasi(2016) verse47, pg-522.
9. Sidhhinandan Mishra, Bhaisajyaratnavali,Vatarogadhikar(26), Chaukhamba surbharati prakashan, Varanasi(2016) Verse 255, pg-540.
10. Sidhhinandan Mishra, Bhaisajya Ratnavali, Vatarogadhikar(26), Chaukhamba surbharati prakashan, Varanasi(2016) Verse 267-276, pg-542.
11. Sidhhinandan Mishra, Bhaisajya Ratnavali, Vatarogadhikar(26), Chaukhamba surbharati prakashan, Varanasi(2016) Verse325-336, pg547.
12. Komeh-Nkrumah, Steva A., et al. “Topical Dermal Application of Essential Oils Attenuates the Severity of Adjuvant Arthritis in Lewis Rats.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3168704/.
13. “Health Benefits of Ginger for Arthritis.” Living With Arthritis, 25 Jan. 2016, blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/health-benefits-of-ginger/.
14. Meamarbashi, Abbas. “Instant Effects of Peppermint Essential Oil on the Physiological Parameters and Exercise Performance.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103722/.
15. “Curcumin.” Linus Pauling Institute, 1 Jan. 2018, lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/curcumin.
16. “Cytokine.” Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Elsevier, www.sciencedirect.com/journal/cytokine.
17. Wada, T T, et al. “Aberrant Histone Acetylation Contributes to Elevated Interleukin-6 Production in Rheumatoid Arthritis Synovial Fibroblasts.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 21 Feb. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24513290.
18. Srivastava, J K, et al. “Chamomile, a Novel and Selective COX-2 Inhibitor with Anti-Inflammatory Activity.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Nov. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19788894/.
19. Suk, Yang, et al. “Effect of Eucalyptus Oil Inhalation on Pain and Inflammatory Responses after Total Knee Replacement: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” International Scholarly Research Notices, Hindawi, 18 June 2013, www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/502727/ref/.
20. Su, Shulan, et al. “Frankincense and Myrrh Suppress Inflammation via Regulation of the Metabolic Profiling and the MAPK Signaling Pathway.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4556964/.
21. Blain, E J, et al. “Boswellia Frereana (Frankincense) Suppresses Cytokine-Induced Matrix Metalloproteinase Expression and Production of pro-Inflammatory Molecules in Articular Cartilage.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19943332.
22. Rantzsch, U, et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Myrtol Standardized and Other Essential Oils on Alveolar Macrophages from Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3521325/.
23. Vieira, C, et al. “Effect of Ricinoleic Acid in Acute and Subchronic Experimental Models of Inflammation.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1781768/.
24. Schäfer, Georgia, and Catherine H. Kaschula. “The Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Organosulfur Compounds in Cancer Chemoprevention.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915757/.
25. Kanth, V. Ravi. “Analgesic, Antiinflammatory and Hypoglycaemic Activities of Sida Cordifolia.” Onlinelibrary.wiley.com, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 15 Feb. 1999, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1573(199902)13:1%3C75::AID-PTR387%3E3.0.CO;2-F.
26. K.R.Srikantha Krishna Murthy, Ashtanga Hridayam, Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy,Varanasi, Shutrasthana, 2/8-9, pg-25.
27. Pawar, Sharad D. “EVALUATION OF ANTI-INFLAMMATORY, ANALGESIC AND ANTI-ARTHRITIC ACTIVITY OF MAHANARAYANA TAILAM IN LABORATORY ANIMALS 1 2 1 2 2.” ResearchGate.net, ResearchGate 2018, Jan. 2011, www.researchgate.net/publication/233041119_EVALUATION_OF_ANTI-INFLAMMATORY_ANALGESIC_AND_ANTI-ARTHRITIC_ACTIVITY_OF_MAHANARAYANA_TAILAM_IN_LABORATORY_ANIMALS_1_2_1_2_2.