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Natural Healing For Hands: Getting a Grip on Pain


by Marlaina Donato

Most of us take our hands for granted until buttoning a shirt or opening a jar becomes a daunting task. Getting a grip on that pain and loss of function with holistic solutions can be a game-changer. Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as repetitive motion syndromes like carpal tunnel, are commonly linked to hand and wrist pain, and effective treatment relies on identifying the underlying cause.

“Systemic inflammation will be an issue in any case, but the root condition needs to be addressed,” says Kiva Rose Hardin, a New Mexico-based herbalist and co-editor of Plant Healer Magazine. Carpal tunnel, for instance, is not always a repetitive injury syndrome; it can sometimes be triggered by endocrine imbalances such as hypothyroidism, she says.

Susan Blum, M.D., author of Healing Arthritis: Your 3-Step Guide to Conquering Arthritis Naturally, agrees on both the role of inflammation and the importance of looking beyond the diagnosis itself. “Inflammation is a process in the body, an end result, and we have to go upstream, so to speak, to find triggers including stress, gut health, toxins and infections.”

By finding the trigger, relief is within reach with non-surgical solutions and natural approaches such as physical therapy, specialized yoga, acupuncture, essential oils and inflammation-taming foods and herbs.

Gut Check

Factors like leaky gut syndrome, stress and inadequate nutrition can all kick inflammation into overdrive. The right dietary adjustments can go a long way toward putting on the brakes. “Inflammation from compromised gut health can contribute to both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis,” Blum notes. “Abdominal fat releases inflammatory molecules into the joints, so metabolic syndrome should [also] be looked at as a factor in osteoarthritis.”

The simplest place to begin is to pay attention to food quality, she says. “Choose whole foods high in nutrients and fiber; eliminate all processed food; read labels to spot hidden sugars and food dyes.”

Blum, the founder of the Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, New York, initially guides her patients on an elimination diet to find dietary triggers like soy, corn, gluten, dairy, sugar and eggs. She also recommends a diet that is 70 percent plant-based and includes cold-pressed, solvent-free oils such as high-quality olive oil. Blum cautions against nightshade vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and white potatoes that can trigger osteoarthritis pain.

Exercise and Prevention

Improper posture can set off a domino effect from neck to fingertips, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome and other troublesome conditions. Prevention can go a long way. “Stretching and strengthening are the best ways to prevent injury or pain,” says physiotherapist Kelly Picciurro, of Spring Forward Physical Therapy, in New York City.

Picciurro emphasizes exercise for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. “It’s vital that these patients maintain a certain level of mobility, and [physical therapy] can improve that.”

Those with repetitive strain injuries also respond well to gentle yoga postures like tree pose, upward hands and upward fingers. In general, yoga helps upper body muscles support and align the hands, wrists and elbows.

Snuffing Out Pain

Acupuncture, especially with a focus on postural muscles of the neck and back, can be effective in reducing pain and inflammation. Hot and cold treatments can bring relief for arthritis flare-ups. Circulation and resulting improved cell nutrition can be achieved by employing heat via showers, baths and heating pads. For acute pain, cold from an ice bag or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel for 20-minute intervals reduces swelling by reducing circulation and dulling pain signals.

Pain-reducing herbs such as cat’s claw, aloe vera, green tea, ginger, borage oil and chili pepper can all help fight systemic inflammation. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is also a heavy hitter. Blum recommends at least 1,000 milligrams daily of curcumin that is formulated with pepper or a phospholipid for optimal absorption. A 2018 study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that the combination of curcumin and black pepper can repress inflammation signals in the intestines.

Essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, ginger, Roman and German chamomile, lavender and balsam fir are also effective in reducing pain, and have anti-inflammatory properties. A few drops can be added to Epsom salts for a bath or diluted and rubbed onto the area three times daily.

Marlaina Donato is an author and composer.


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Food tips from Susan Blum, M.D.

Replace refined sugar with maple sugar, coconut sugar or honey, all of which offer nutrients and minerals. Avoid overly processed agave nectar.

If meats are consumed, choose organic and grass-fed. Choose whole grains.

Herbal suggestions from Kiva Rose Hardin

For topical pain-relieving applications, look for a fat/oil-based preparation with mint or cayenne for faster action.

Powdered herbs in mass-produced capsules can lose medicinal efficacy quickly. Alcohol or glycerine-based tinctures are good choices that can be convenient when traveling.

Ginger is an effective anti-inflammatory that can be added to food.

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), sustainably sourced, is especially useful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; the rhizome of this plant seems to work on the synovial fluid of the joints.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidim) is an important part of any autoimmune formula. A decoction or extract is beneficial for arthritis, fibromyalgia and lupus.

Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum) reduces stress and anxiety while moderating inflammation; it is especially effective in the treatment of autoimmune disorders and endocrine disruption.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) reduces systemic inflammation and has a moderating effect on most forms of arthritis and joint pain; it also strengthens the collagen matrix of the body and supports overall joint health.

Computer posture reminders from Kelly Picciurro

Elbows should rest at about a 90-degree angle and comfortably at the side. Wrists should lie in a neutral position; not be too extended or flexed.

The keyboard and mouse should be close to the body to avoid excessive reaching of the hands.