WebMD reports that a plethora of alternative techniques may help people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) exert greater control of their pain and activities.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), natural treatments for rheumatoid arthritis may range from moist heat, magnets, and massage to herbs, natural supplements, and relaxation remedies.

Although some of these natural treatments may help RA, none of these therapies is fully grounded in science and many have not been completely tested for side effects. The article reminds people to consult their physician before using any unprescribed remedy.

Many physicians recommend heat and/or cold treatments to reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. A cool compress or ice pack can be applied to the affected joint during an RA flareup to help ease inflammation and pain. Apply the compress for 15 minutes at a time with at least a 30-minute break in between treatments.

Heat compresses relax muscles and stimulate blood flow. This can consist of a moist heating pad, a warm, damp towel, a microwavable hot pack, or a warm shower.

Many studies have reviewed the use of mind/body therapies for rheumatoid arthritis pain. They may be helpful when added to conventional treatments to help people manage stress, and improve sleep and pain perception.

Deep abdominal breathing: Taking deep, slow breaths from the abdomen (not the chest) can help alter a person’s emotional state. Deep breathing can also make a stressful moment lessen in intensity, decreasing stress hormones and slowing the heart beat during stressful moments.

For progressive muscle relaxation, people concentrate on different muscle groups, contracting then relaxing all of the major muscle groups in the body–starting with the head, neck, and arms, then chest, back, and stomach,and  finishing with the pelvis, legs, and feet.Deep breathing can be combined with muscle relaxation.

Visualization can help reduce stress and pain, and it can be soothing during stressful times.

Meditation brings about relaxation and stress reduction. It can slow the heart rate and breathing. Meditation reduces stress and helps with pain perception.

Studies are being done on tai chi for pain reduction. The movements of tai chi are gentle, graceful, and mystical. For those with arthritis, tai chi is a safe way to relieve pain, and it can help increase range of motion and joint strength.

With acupuncture, the practitioner uses stainless steel needles to stimulate the major pathways–called meridians–in the body. The goal is to stimulate various points targeted at specific areas of the body. Some physicians say they believe acupuncture needles decrease pain by triggering endorphins. Although little research has been done on people with rheumatoid arthritis, acupuncture studies show an improvement in pain, particularly in people with back pain. Some studies have also shown a decrease in pain in people with osteoarthritis.

There are a few rheumatoid arthritis studies that show some benefit for certain supplements and natural remedies. However, the research is preliminary, so the true impact these supplements may have on RA is uncertain. Supplements for RA that have the best medical research to back them up include:

Borage. Some studies show that borage seed oil along with antiinflammatory painkillers can reduce RA symptoms. These findings show reduced tender and swollen joints of RA after 6 weeks. Borage seed oil appears to be safe but may cause soft stools, diarrhea, and bloating. Borage seeds and other plant parts, such as the leaf or flower, may contain substances that are potentially harmful to the liver. Borage seed oil does not contain these harmful substances.

Fish oil. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Several studies have shown that fish oil supplements may help reduce morning stiffness with RA. In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil help protect against heart disease. People with RA are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Fish oil appears to be safe when used appropriately. Doses greater than 3 grams per day may increase the chance of bleeding.

Thunder god vine. A few studies have shown a decrease in pain and tender joints in people with RA taking this supplement. A large government-funded study is under way comparing thunder god vine with traditional medicine for rheumatoid arthritis. Thunder god vine appears to be safe. However, pregnant women should not take this supplement as it may cause birth defects.