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Complementary and alternative treatments

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What are the main differences between complementary and alternative medicine and conventional medicine?

Conventional medicine focuses on understanding and correcting the underlying problems that are causing your symptoms.

Complementary medicine uses therapies that work alongside conventional medicine.

Alternative medicine includes treatments not currently considered part of evidence-based Western medicine.

Read more >

Why do people use complementary and alternative medicine?

People use complementary and alternative medicine because:

  • their symptoms aren’t fully controlled by conventional medicine
  • they have a desire to use treatments that are more natural and help them feel more in control
  • they have persistent pain
  • they have concerns about the side-effects of medication
Read more >

Does complementary and alternative medicine really work?

Because there are many types of complementary and alternative medicine, it’s impossible to generalise about whether they work or not. Effectiveness might relate to making you feel better but it also may relate to improvement in your condition or general well-being. Read more >

Are complementary and alternative medicines safe?

Generally speaking, complementary and alternative medicine is relatively safe, although you should always talk to your doctor before you start treatment. Read more >

Can I get complementary and alternative therapies on the NHS?

Some complementary and alternative therapies may be available on the NHS, but this varies from one area to another.

Read more >


Acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles at particular points in your skin. Read more >

Alexander technique

The Alexander technique educates you on your sense of body position and movement, eliminating bad habits of posture, muscle tension and movement. Read more >


Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of scented essential oils. Read more >

Copper bracelets

Copper bracelets are said to reduce pain or stiffness associated with arthritis. Read more >

Diet and supplements

A good diet is essential for health, and many complementary and alternative therapists advise on diet.

As well as having a healthy, balanced diet, getting additional nutrients from food supplements may help if you have arthritis. Read more >


Healing may take many forms, such as:

  • faith healing
  • ‘laying on of hands’
  • spiritual healing
  • lay healing
  • ‘distance’ (‘absent’) healing
  • Reiki
  • Read more >

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is the use of plants and plant extracts to treat disease. Read more >


Homeopathy is based on the idea of treating like with like. So for a hot, swollen and tender joint a homeopath might prescribe you a remedy made from bee stings, which can cause hot, swollen and tender swellings. Read more >

Magnet therapy

It has been suggested that magnets can be helpful for pain relief, including low back and knee pain. Read more >

Manipulative therapies

Manipulative therapies include chiropractic, osteopathy and manual medicine. Read more >


Massage involves a manual technique in which a rhythmic movement uses a variety of strokes, kneading or tapping to move your muscles and soft tissue of your body. Read more >

Meditation, t'ai chi and yoga

Therapies sush as yoga, t'ai chi and meditation combine special movements or postures and breathing exercises and can help with stress, balance and mobility.

Read more >

Relaxation, hypnosis and cognitive therapies

The purpose of relaxation is to cancel out the effects of stress and fatigue. Hypnosis is a deeply relaxed state, induced by a practitioner, in which you’re given therapeutic suggestions to encourage changes in your behaviour or relief of your symptoms. Read more >

Wax bath therapy

Wax therapy, which uses a bath of molten paraffin wax, is one of the most effective ways of applying heat to improve mobility by heating connective tissues. Read more >


If you consult such a practitioner, they should:
  • have an agreed code of ethics
  • be insured in case something goes wrong with your treatment
  • be a member of an organisation that promotes self-regulation and doesn’t make unreasonable claims about their treatments
  • Read more >

Research and new developments

Arthritis Research UK is funding trials into the effectiveness of acupuncture and yoga. Read more >


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Give today to help fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis so that people like Christine can live a pain-free, active life.

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New report on complementary therapies for arthritis reveals lack of scientific evidence

Copper bracelets

A new report into the effectiveness of complementary therapies, commonly used for treating arthritis, has found a lack of scientific evidence to support their use.

Complementary treatments hints and tips

woman browsing a medicine cabinet

Read helpful hints on alternative and complementary therapies from other people who have arthritis.

For more information, go to or call 0300 790 0400 to order the complete printed booklet.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.