Derived from the Greek word Rheuma, which means swelling, rheumatism refers to a collection of painful conditions that can affect various parts of the body. It is not a single disease but rather a term that is generally assigned to different problems associated with the muscles and joints, and bones and tendons. In some cases, rheumatism may also affect the internal organs such as the lungs, the heart, the kidneys and even the skin.

Rheumatism  Picture

As a result, there are different types of rheumatism depending on what part of the body is affected. Some common types are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tennis elbow
  • Gout
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Fibrositis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Cervical spondylitis

Rheumatism is also referred to as fibromyalgia or fibromyositis and is more evident in the elderly and middle-aged though it can affect people from all age groups.  

Rheumatism is dreaded by all of us, not because it is life threatening, but because of the extent to which it threatens the quality of life. The condition can be severely debilitating, leaving you confined to the bed at times. Rheumatism needn’t always take such control over your life however, and there is a lot that can be done to cope with the condition and continue to live a life of relative normalcy.

Symptoms of Rheumatism

The most predominant symptom of rheumatism is pain. There could be pain in the joints and muscles, or stiffness and aching that seems to have no specific cause. This pain may be localized affecting just a specific area, but could then travel to another part of the body altogether. Most common areas of pain include the knees, legs, hands, arms, shoulders, back, chest, and hips. Other rheumatism symptoms are:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling feeling in the arms and legs
  • Pain in the abdomen that recurs
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Fever
  • Stiffness of muscles and joints
  • Loss of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Soreness and swelling
  • Irregular urination
  • Eye pain

A typical rheumatic ‘attack’ starts off with the swelling of a joint (the knee or the ankle for example). The skin over the joint becomes hot and reddened and the pain spreads to other joints over the next few days. During this time, any movement aggravates the pain and bed rest is absolutely necessary. Rheumatic attacks may be seasonal and may appear and disappear with no discernible cause. Very often the first attack may be dismissed as a one-off event and the full effect of the disease may not be realized until many attacks and several months or years later. Along with the pain and swelling, there is a fever along with complications to the cardiovascular system in some cases.

Causes of Rheumatism

Although there have been great advances in medicine in the past century, there is still little that we know for certain about the causes for rheumatism. There are different opinions amongst experts about what the causes of rheumatism are, and the conditions that could trigger a rheumatic attack. These include:

  • Genetics: Some people may be predisposed to suffering from rheumatism due to heredity.
  • Location: Experts believe that the environment in which you live may also influence your susceptibility to rheumatism, because of certain extreme climatic conditions.
  • Diet: Eating foods high in acids, a high intake of white sugar, red meats, starch and fatty foods can all encourage the development of rheumatism.
  • Hormones: An imbalance of hormones can lead to rheumatism and rheumatic symptoms.
  • Mouth infections: Infections related to the mouth and teeth have also been linked with the development of rheumatism.
  • Diseases and illnesses: Certain diseases such as Gall Bladder disease can increase your risk of developing rheumatism.

Remedies for Rheumatism

Rheumatism home remedies are varied and involve a number of unusual as well as easily available ingredients and methods. There is no known natural cure for rheumatism however, and home remedies cannot be relied on as an alternative to conventional rheumatism treatment. While there are many home remedies for rheumatism that may help manage pain and restore normalcy, the effects of most of these alternative treatments have not been adequately researched. Please keep your health care provider informed about any alternative treatments that you wish to try out, particularly when using herbal remedies or supplements, because of possible interactions. Here are some popular rheumatism treatments that you can try in combination with your medical treatments:

  • Potato: Potatoes are an extremely popular treatment for rheumatism and can be used in several different ways.  One way is to drink 2 teaspoons of raw potato juice daily. Alternatively boil potato skins in water until the concoction is reduced to nearly half the amount. After straining, drink this concentrate at least three to four times a day for the fastest results.
  • Boswellia: Is an herb that is available in supplement form at most health food stores or on the internet. Boswellia is believed to help improve bone and joint health and could prevent problems with the muscles and skeletal structure. Always consult with a trained herbalist before starting any new treatment.
  • Heat packs or cold compresses to the affected painful areas, hot tub baths with Epsom salts and warm olive oil massages can all help with pain relief during a rheumatic attack.
  • The inclusion of ginger in your diet, or the consumption of ginger supplements may help you cope with the pain and inflammatory symptoms, as research studies have confirmed the presence of anti-inflammatory compounds in the herb. More research is needed on its effects on rheumatism however.
  • Turmeric may also have a role to play in rheumatism treatment, as studies have indicated the presence of curcumin, a chemical compound that offers the joints protection against inflammatory disease and damage.

Diet for Rheumatism

Although your diet may not always have a direct bearing on the development of rheumatism, in some cases it may be a contributing factor. Whether or not, dietary factors are responsible for your condition, it is important that you make certain changes to your diet to facilitate healing and to restrict the frequency and severity of symptoms. While the effects of dietary modifications may be marginal, there is little doubt that unhealthy dietary practices can severely aggravate the symptoms. Studies have been conducted into the effects of various dietary supplements, and while most studies are inconclusive, certain supplements and nutrients have been shown to be beneficial.  

  • Evidence from clinical trials into the effects of fish oil has been encouraging, and the benefits derive from the high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for a variety of bodily functions, but they are also anti-inflammatory agents.  Studies clearly indicate that population groups that consume large amounts of omega-3 rich foods have a lower incidence of inflammatory diseases. Fish oil is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, and you can simply consume fish oil supplements. The best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids would include fishes like salmon, tuna and mackerel.
  • Oils such as fish oil, walnut oil, and olive oil should be a regular part of your diet. These oils along with fatty fish are high in unsaturated fated and omega-3 acids that are beneficial to the body and help reduce symptoms of rheumatism.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, white sugar, refined flour, salty, and spicy foods. Any foods that are high in acidic content can aggravate and worsen the symptoms of rheumatism. Soy oil and corn oil increase inflammation of the joints and should be avoided as well. Wheat and corn also increase inflammation and care should be taken to avoid any types of products made with these ingredients.

Suggestion for Rheumatism

Hot and cold treatment has been proved helpful in relieving pain from rheumatism. This is mainly effective for the treatment of swollen joints, muscles and bones especially those on the hands and feet. You will need two basins of water – one filled with hot water and the other with cold water. The temperatures should be hot and cold enough to be bearable and not harm the skin with extreme temperatures. Make sure that there is enough water to immerse the entire foot or hand. First place the foot or hand in the hot water for three minutes and then into the basin with cold water for the next three minutes. This should be repeated a minimum of seven times always ending with hot water. Do this up to three times a day for the best results.


  1. Carol J. Henderson, Richard S. Panush, DIETS, DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS, AND NUTRITIONAL THERAPIES IN RHEUMATIC DISEASES, Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, Volume 25, Issue 4, 1 November 1999, Pages 937-968, ISSN 0889-857X, 10.1016/S0889-857X(05)70112-5.
  2. Geraldine M. McCarthy, Dermot Kenny, Dietary fish oil and rheumatic diseases, Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism, Volume 21, Issue 6, June 1992, Pages 368-375, ISSN 0049-0172, 10.1016/0049-0172(92)90037-E.
  3. Edzard Ernst, Complementary Treatments in Rheumatic Diseases, Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, Volume 34, Issue 2, May 2008, Pages 455-467, ISSN 0889-857X, 10.1016/j.rdc.2008.03.007.

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