Today, many patients with chronic psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis have a strong interest in alternative therapies. About a third of all psoriasis patients use complementary medicine in addition to traditional medical therapies.
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These complementary practices include changes in diet, such as switching to a plant-based or dairy-free diet, the addition of dietary supplements and the adoption of stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, physical therapy, tai chi and other forms of exercise. Acupuncture and aromatherapy are also important complements to traditional therapies.
Most of the complementary and alternative therapies mentioned are safe. Some can interact with prescribed medications. It is important to talk to your doctor before adding any alternative treatments to your treatment plan for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
Derived from ancient Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles along key meridians (lines of energy that connect the body’s organs). A large patient-based review published in the September 2012 Archives of Internal Medicine established positive outcomes when using acupuncture to treat chronic pain, such as that related to psoriatic arthritis.
Visit a licensed acupuncturist to receive adequate therapy. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is a recognized organization within the field and can help you find a licensed practitioner in your area.
As nearly 30 percent of patients with psoriasis also have concomitant arthritis, massage can alleviate sore joints and muscles. By manipulating the muscle and connective tissue, function and range of motion are enhanced and restored. Massage also improves lymphatic circulation and aids in full mind-body relaxation.
Be sure to let your practitioner know that you have psoriasis prior to your appointment. There are many practitioners that are familiar with psoriasis, and letting them know it is not contagious reassures them. A doctor’s note may be necessary.
Additionally, providing your own massage oil can help avoid flares or worsening of the disease. For instance, coconut oil can be anti-inflammatory to the psoriatic plaques. Finally, avoiding skin injury is key to avoiding a psoriasis flare. Swedish massage is known for its light, relaxing pressure and may be the best type of massage for psoriasis patients.
Reiki is an ancient Japanese energy healing system that helps the body reduce inflammation from within. “Rei” means “universal life” and “ki” means “life-force energy” in Japanese. It is a relaxation technique similar to meditation that can address both mental and physical stress to provide healing.
Reiki practitioners use physical touch to increase the body’s ki by placing their hands on meridian positions on the patient’s body. You can also learn to practice Reiki on yourself. It is particularly useful in those who are very active and after intense exercise. Reiki can be a wonderful, spiritual experience.
Physical activity is important for your overall mental and physical health, especially if you have psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. Regular exercise aids in maintaining a healthy weight and lowers your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, which are both increased when you have psoriasis.
Yoga and Tai Chi
Yoga, originally derived from India, combines controlled breathing, stretches and meditation to reduce stress hormones and raise anti-inflammatory cytokines within the body. Yoga enhances serotonin, which improves mood and can also help deepen and prolong the more restful stages of sleep.
For patients suffering from psoriatic arthritis, yoga can help decrease joint pain and improve range of motion. Results can be seen with as little as 15 to 20 minutes per day and can be done anywhere.
Likewise, tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art, can be practiced to achieve greater health and well-being. It is also thought that tai chi enhances longevity. The intensity of this exercise is light to medium and is excellent for patients with concomitant cardiac disease. Ideally, it is practiced once or twice a day for approximately 15 minutes. Like yoga, it can be done anywhere.
Meditation can contribute to health and healing of the skin by reducing the mind’s response to stress. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to yield excellent results in the treatment of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
Mindfulness is the art of paying attention to a particular way or purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally. This practice can be weaved into other mainstream therapies for a more comprehensive approach to healing.
Perhaps the oldest treatment for psoriasis has been exposure to sunlight. Interestingly, both leprosy and psoriasis were grouped together in pre-biblical times. It was noted that leprosy improved after sunlight exposure, as there are numerous anti-inflammatory benefits to safe sunlight exposure. Some of these patients actually had psoriasis.
Spending 15 to 20 minutes a day in the sun can help both the mind and the skin in patients with psoriasis. There have been additional studies that sunlight therapy helps to release natural endorphins and elevate serotonin levels in patient’s brains after exposure. It is important to avoid sunburn, though, as this may trigger an outbreak or worsening of psoriasis.