10 Strange Arthritis Treatments That May Actually Work

Achy joints making you miserable? If your go-to arthritis treatment isn't providing relief, consider one of these alternative therapies.

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More than 30 million Americans are living with osteoarthritis—the wear-and-tear form of the condition which causes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And all of them are looking for ways to ease the ache.

Although the condition can’t be cured, arthritis treatments like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription medications, and physical therapy often bring relief from symptoms. If those aren’t working for you, you might want to try one of these more out-of-the-ordinary options.

Tai Chi

In a study from 2013, researchers found that people with arthritis who did tai chi, a low-impact exercise that incorporates slow gentle movements, had less pain and stiffness and more physical functionality after just 12 weeks. And an Annals of Internal Medicine study found the ancient practice may be as effective as physical therapy for osteoarthritis in the knee.

Wearing flip-flops

Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University presented a study published in Arthritis Care & Research which found that wearing flip-flops (as well as going barefoot and wearing flat sneakers) creates significantly less knee stress than clogs and specialized walking shoes. The study authors suspect that the flatness and flexibility of the footwear provide the benefits. Just make sure you feel stable while walking in flip-flops. If you don’t, flat sneakers are a better bet. Choosing the right shoe is just one habit way to ease arthritis pain—here are 12 more.

Drinking milk

Got arthritis? A large study from Harvard Medical School suggests drinking milk may slow the progression of knee arthritis. Researchers found that the more milk women (but not men) drank, the less narrowing they had in the joint space in their knee. Just don’t overdo it; women in the study who ate seven or more servings of cheese per week actually lost joint space.

Bee stings

This is a no-go if you happen to be allergic to bee stings, unfortunately: A clinical trial is in progress to see whether injecting joints with a new drug which is a purified form of bee venom could be an effective arthritis treatment. This treatment may sound odd, but a review published in BMJ Open found evidence that bee venom may help treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in people.


If you want an arthritis treatment that smells good and feels even better, look no further: A study in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that massage with lavender essential oil relieved pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis. More good news: Lavender isn’t the only essential oil that delivers this benefit: here are 7 more essential oils that can soothe your arthritis aches.


Frankincense is the dried sap from trees in the Boswellia genus. And boswellic acids—the active components in frankincense—may have strong anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, according to the Arthritis Foundation. In fact, a 2010 study confirmed frankincense as a potential arthritis treatment for reducing inflammatory symptoms linked to osteoarthritis.

Chili peppers

Capsaicin, a compound in peppers that provides the heat, temporarily reduces a pain transmitter, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Several studies, including published in Phytotherapy Research, offer proof. The researchers found people who used a cream containing capsaicin had a 50 percent reduction in joint pain after three weeks of use. If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, consider one of these other pain-busting anti-inflammatory eats.

CBD oil

It won’t get you high, but CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, could still help you (or at least your joints) feel good, according to several studies, including a study on animals published in the journal Pain. It found that CBD might be an effective arthritis treatment. Researchers are actively looking into whether CBD oil might have the same effect on humans, and how much you’d need to get the benefit. This arthritis sufferer decided to try it and found it worked so well that he created a cream for other joint pain sufferers.


The warming spice may also be a healing one. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties similar to NSAIDs like ibuprofen. Why that matters: Inflammation contributes towards pain around the affected joints. A study published in Arthritis and Rheumatology found people who took ginger capsules twice a day for six months had 40 percent less pain than those who swallowed a placebo. Even though they don’t smell as good as gingerbread or ginger tea, the capsules are your best bet. Lead study author Roy Altman, MD told the Arthritis Foundation that the amount of ginger in food and drink may not contain enough ginger to have an effect.


If you can get over the yuck factor, these blood-sucking worms could be the answer to your arthritis knee pain. In a recent study, German researchers discovered that placing four to six leeches on an aching knee eased pain better than the leading topical anti-inflammatory treatment. Don’t expect your doctor to cover you with leeches just yet; the study authors admit more research is needed to discover exactly how the unlikely treatment works. But they hope the findings could help them come up with a topical medication you could one day slather on your sore joint. Using leeches are just one of 15 bizarre ancient remedies you won’t believe existed.

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Tracy Middleton
Tracy Middleton is an experienced health and wellness journalist and is passionate about fitness, eating well, and coffee.