Psoriatic arthritis is one of the major complications that’s associated with psoriasis, a relapsing inflammatory skin disease. An estimated 30 percent of people with psoriasis symptoms will go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, another type of inflammatory disease that’s caused by both genetic and environmental factors.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, delaying treatment for psoriatic arthritis for as little as six months can result in permanent joint pain and damage. This is why it’s imperative that people who show psoriatic arthritis symptoms receive treatment as soon as the signs develop. (1)
Much like the diet and natural treatment for psoriasis, treating psoriatic arthritis naturally involves making dietary and lifestyle changes, and using pain relieving and anti-inflammatory agents like turmeric and Epsom salt. Although seeking medical attention for psoriatic arthritis is extremely important, as the disease can cause permanent joint damage, there are complementary ways to improve your symptoms naturally.
What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that develops when your body’s immune system attacks your healthy cells and tissue. This immune response causes inflammation in your joints that can lead to stiffness, swelling, pain and difficulty moving.
Is psoriatic arthritis a serious disease? In a word, the answer is yes. This condition can cause permanent joint and tissue damage if it’s not treated right away. According to researchers at the University of Rome in Italy, “More than half of all patients with psoriatic arthritis exhibit progressive erosive arthritis, associated with severe functional impairment and psychosocial disability.” (2) Studies shows that destructive changes to your bones usually appear within a few months from the onset of psoriatic arthritis symptoms. So seeking medical treatment right away is extremely important. (3)
You may be wondering if psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are related? It’s true that many people who develop psoriatic arthritis have a family history of psoriasis, and having psoriasis is the single greatest risk factor for the development of psoriatic arthritis. In fact, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis. (4)
But if you have a severe case of psoriasis, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have a severe case of psoriatic arthritis. On the other hand, some people have only mild psoriasis symptoms, but experience pain in their joints as a result of psoriatic arthritis. And in some cases, people develop psoriatic arthritis and don’t experience any skin changes or symptoms of psoriasis at all.
- Oligoarticular: This is a form of mild psoriatic arthritis that affects four or less joints in your body.
- Polyarticular: This is a more severe form of psoriatic arthritis and it affects at least four of your joints.
- Spondylitis: This term is used to describe inflammation of the spinal column, which can make joint motion in your neck and lower back difficult and painful.
- Enthesitis: This is a condition that involves inflammation at the sites where your tendons or ligaments insert into your bones. This may affect areas of your body like the spine, pelvis, ribs and bottoms of the feet.
- Dactylitis: This form of arthritis refers to the development of inflammation or swelling in your fingers and toes. Dactylitis can cause your fingers or toes to look like sausages and it may lead to hand or foot deformities.
Signs & Symptoms
The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis can come on suddenly or develop over time. They range from mild to serious and if they are left untreated, symptoms can develop into extensive joint damage. Usually, people with psoriatic arthritis experience symptoms that worsen over time, and they sometimes have periods of improved symptoms or periods when the symptoms become more severe.
The most common psoriatic arthritis symptoms include: (6)
- Fatigue: Experiencing tiredness and fatigue is common among people with psoriatic arthritis. Research shows that fatigue is caused by the presence of a coexisting inflammatory condition. This can be the result of the body undergoing stress or the adverse side effects of medications used to treat psoriatic arthritis. (7)
- Swollen and painful joints: Much like the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis usually causes your joints to become stiff, swollen and painful. They can also appear red and feel warm when touched. This can occur in one or both sides of your body. Some places where you may experience swelling and pain include your wrists, fingers, toes, knees, ankles and lower back.
- Swollen fingers and toes: It’s not uncommon for your fingers and toes to become so swollen that they begin to look like sausages. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause swelling and deformities in your hands and feet.
- Reduced range of motion: Because your joints become stiff and swollen, you may experience a reduced range of motion or inability to move the way you used to. This can become more noticeable after physical activity or periods of inactivity, or when you wake up in the morning.
- Foot pain: You may experience pain at the areas of the foot where the tendons and ligaments attach to your bones. This is especially common at the back of the heel and soles of the feet.
- Inflammation of the spine: Psoriatic arthritis can cause inflammation of one or more vertebral joints in your spine. This is a condition called spondylitis and it can lead to lower back pain that usually becomes worse over time. There may also be inflammation and pain in the joints between the base of the spine and the pelvis.
- Nail changes: As a result of psoriatic arthritis, your nails may separate from their nail beds or become pitted. You may also develop brittle nails that break easily or split at the ends. The condition affects the joints that are closest to your finger and toe nails, which are called the distal joints. Experiencing nail changes is one of the major indicators that the condition is psoriatic arthritis and not another type of arthritic disease.
- Eye pain and redness: You may experience redness and pain in your eye, and develop eye infections like pink eye (conjunctivitis).
Causes & Risk Factors
Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is caused by an immune response that mistakingly attacks your healthy joints and skin. This results in inflammation that causes swelling, stiffness and pain in your joints. The truth is that no one knows exactly what causes psoriatic arthritis, but researchers believe that both genes and the environment play a role. (8)
The known causes of psoriatic arthritis include:
- Genetics: Research shows that there’s a stronger genetic or family link to psoriatic arthritis than other autoimmune disease, with about 40 percent of people diagnosed with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis having family members who are also affected by one of these diseases. (9)
- Environment: Environmental factors, such as viral or bacterial infections, may cause the onset of psoriatic arthritis among people who already have a family history of the disease. Stress can also lead to bodily inflammation, possibly resulting in the onset of psoriatic arthritis or more severe symptoms. (10)
Here are some facts about who commonly develops psoriatic arthritis:
- It affects people who have psoriasis, even if the symptoms are mild.
- People with a parent or sibling who has psoriatic arthritis have a greater chance of developing the disease.
- It’s more prevalent in Caucasians than African-Americans or Asian-Americans.
- It usually begins between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can also begin in childhood.
- Men and women are equally at risk for developing psoriatic arthritis.
There is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, but treatment plans are put in place to control the inflammation, reduce pain, and relieve swelling and stiffness. Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications are commonly used to help treat the overactive immune response that causes inflammation. The drugs that are most commonly used to relieve psoriatic arthritis symptoms include:
NSAIDs: NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are OTC medications used to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Unfortunately, there are many dangers of NSAIDs, including an increased risk of heart failure, gastrointestinal damage, renal failure and allergic reactions. These dangers should be one factor you discuss with your doctor when considering conventional treatment methods for psoriatic arthritis.
Immunosuppressants: Immunosuppressant medications are used to ease the overactive immune response that’s causing psoriatic arthritis symptoms. Immunosuppressants, like methotrexate, cyclosporine and arava, may help to alleviate pain and swelling and prevent permanent joint damage. Some adverse side effects from taking immunosuppressants include nausea, upset stomach, hair loss, mouth sores and an increased risk of liver problems. (11)
Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory effects. They can reduce joint inflammation, swelling and pain by suppressing inflammatory pathways in the body. Some commonly prescribed corticosteroids include prednisone, dexamethasone and methylprednisolone. (12)
Anti-tumor Necrosis Factor Agents (TNF inhibitors): TNF inhibitors are used to treat patients who have both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. They can help to relieve stiffness, ease pain, relieve swollen joints and improve skin issues. These drugs can be given by injection under the skin or infusion into the vein. Some adverse side effects of TNF inhibitors include an increased risk of infection, skin reactions at the injection site, difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. (13)
Another form of conventional treatment for psoriatic arthritis is light therapy, which involves being exposed to a combination of natural ultraviolet light and artificial ultraviolet light. Researchers have found that by targeting the skin with light therapy, the joint also responds. But according to research conducted at the University of Washington School of Medicine, light therapy is more effective for mild skin and joint manifestations. (14)
7 Natural Ways to Relieve Symptoms
1. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
One of the best things you can do to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms is to avoid eating pro-inflammatory foods and drinks like alcohol, caffeine, sugar and trans fats. For some people, certain foods trigger inflammation and should also be avoided. These may include gluten, dairy and shellfish, which are all foods that commonly cause food allergies or sensitivities.
Instead, stick to anti-inflammatory foods like green leafy vegetables, broccoli, blueberries, walnuts and pineapple. You also want to make sure to eat a well-balanced diet that includes good quality protein, like wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef and organic chicken; healthy fats, like avocado and coconut oil; and complex carbohydrates like oats, quinoa and brown rice.
2. Lose Excess Weight
If you are holding onto a few extra pounds, this can put added stress on your joints. A 2017 systematic review conducted in Madrid, Spain found that patients who lost weight experienced less inflammation. (15) That’s why it’s important that you lose any excess weight by following a well-balanced, anti-inflammatory diet and engaging in regular exercise. This will help you to bust stress, improve your flexibility, and relieve swelling and pain.
3. Engage in Physical Activity
Getting regular exercise, such as walking, biking, yoga or aerobic exercises, can help to improve the flexibility of your joints. This will promote range of motion, reduce stiffness and even alleviate pain that’s associated with psoriatic arthritis.
A study published in Drug Development Research found that 77 percent of the participants practiced a home-based exercise routine that improved the mental and physical health of patients with psoriatic arthritis. Researchers also found that working with a therapist was crucial, as he or she was able to improve the quality of performance, provide emotional support and increase the patient’s motivation. (16)
4. Reduce Stress
Because stress can lead to inflammation — making psoriatic arthritis symptoms worse — it’s important to practice stress management. Studies show that stress is a risk factor for many autoimmune diseases because it influences inflammatory cellular reactions. (17)
Make reducing stress a part of your daily life with activities like walking outside, practicing yoga, meditating, praying or journaling, Really, any stress reliever that helps you to unwind and reduce your stress levels should be incorporated into your day in order to keep the inflammation at bay.
5. Try Acupuncture
Research shows that acupuncture is increasingly being used as a complementary therapy for the treatment of rheumatic diseases. It can be used to relieve back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain and joint pain. (18)
Acupuncture works for conditions like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis by releasing natural pain killers such as endorphins, serotonin and adenosine. Studies also show that acupuncture, which has been used as a form of alternative medicine for 5,000 years, is a safe means of treatment that will not interfere with any existing psoriatic arthritis treatment. (19)
6. Use Epsom Salt
Instead of turning to OTC painkillers that increase your risk of heart disease and gastrointestinal damage, try using natural painkillers instead. Epsom salt is considered in homeopathic remedies to be a natural painkiller that works to relieve joint pain and reduce inflammation, although little research has been completed on the subject. You can add it to a warm water bath and let the magnesium-rich Epsom salt soak into your skin for about 15 minutes. This may also help to remove the scales and calm the itching that’s associated with psoriasis, which is usually a concern for people with psoriatic arthritis.
7. Take Turmeric
The active ingredient in turmeric — curcumin — has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric is available as a dietary supplement and 1 drop of a high quality turmeric essential oil can be added to water or a teaspoon of honey.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medicinal Food indicates that turmeric extract (which is about 1,000 milligrams a day of curcumin) shows efficacy in treating arthritis. Researchers concluded that there is compelling justification for the use of curcumin as a dietary supplement to conventional therapy for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. (20)
Psoriatic arthritis is a serious disease that requires immediate treatment in order to avoid permanent joint damage. If you are experiencing symptoms, make sure to see your doctor immediately. Treatment plans may include conventional medications, but the natural remedies discussed in this article can be used as complementary forms of therapy.
- Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your joints, leading to pain, swelling, stiffness and reduced range of motion.
- About 30 percent of people with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis, but the symptoms vary from person to person. Some people will experience more severe symptoms of psoriatic arthritis and mild, or no, skin issues.
- Researchers don’t know exactly what causes psoriatic arthritis, but studies indicate that genetics and the environment are the two major factors.
- Conventional treatment for psoriatic arthritis involves anti-inflammatory medications that work to reverse the overreactive immune response.
7 Natural Ways to Improve Your Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms:
- Avoid inflammatory foods
- Lose excess weight
- Engage in physical activity
- Reduce stress
- Try acupuncture
- Use Epsom salt
- Take turmeric