by Meaghan Quirin
Medically Reviewed by:
Nancy Carteron, M.D., FACR
by Meaghan Quirin
Medically Reviewed by:
Nancy Carteron, M.D., FACR
There isn’t one right approach when it comes to psoriatic arthritis treatment. This is how I found the best of both worlds.
One of the most overwhelming aspects of managing a chronic condition like psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is navigating medication and treatment choices.
The rising appearance and discussion of more alternative remedies has made it especially difficult to keep up. Social media is flooded with accounts of coaches and programs claiming to “heal” your autoimmune disease with their diets, supplements, or protocols. This messaging often comes alongside scary claims about the side effects of conventional medications.
Alternative and conventional treatments are so often pinned against one another. For many years, I felt I had to stick with one or the other. However, I’ve come to learn that condition management is often more effective when we’re able to combine the tools available.
Here’s how I found balance in my approach to PsA treatment.
I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (now known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis) in 1995 when I was 2 years old.
About 4 years ago, after being in remission for several years, I had one of the most intense flares of my life. All the joints on the left side of my body, as well as my neck, lower back, and jaw, were inflamed. I had intense fatigue and heavy brain fog. It was extremely debilitating.
I had recently moved to a new city, so I immediately made an appointment with a new rheumatologist. However, my new doctor noted that I did not have rheumatoid factor in my blood work, and my symptoms were not consistent with rheumatoid arthritis.
While she wasn’t exactly sure what type of arthritis we were looking at, she recommended I take methotrexate pills and steroids right away to control the flare before it caused more damage to my joints.
After 6 weeks taking the new medications, I was experiencing more side effects than benefits. My rheumatologist recommended biologic injections as the next approach. I was hesitant. After all, I still didn’t have a proper diagnosis, and I was having no response to the first round of medications.
After taking some time to research the pros and cons of biologics, I decided against them. I found a holistic health coach and figured I would try a completely different route of treatment.
The health coach focused heavily on dietary changes. I was on a strict paleo-style diet of no gluten, grains, dairy, sugar, or legumes. I started to feel improvement in my symptoms within a few weeks, and I was so excited.
I stuck with the dietary approach to symptom management for almost 2 years. I had less joint pain, I was exercising again, and I was feeling pretty good.
However, after a while, it became harder to maintain. The meal planning, shopping, prepping, and cost of the foods I was meant to be eating were becoming hard to manage.
Besides the dietary changes, I hadn’t done much to change my overall lifestyle, and I was very burned out, stressed, and overwhelmed by balancing work, life, and my arthritis. I started to flare, once again feeling defeated.
At this point, I decided to get another opinion from a rheumatologist. This doctor was extremely thorough in her initial intake and was able to catch the important clue — a family history of psoriasis — that led to my PsA diagnosis.
Although most would think a psoriasis diagnosis would come before PsA, that isn’t true for everyone. This rheumatologist commended me for my efforts to treat my condition holistically but also recognized the damage the uncontrolled inflammation was having on my joints.
By this time, I had lost most of my grip strength, and my left elbow and knee no longer had full range of motion. With the formal diagnosis of PsA, I felt it was time to try biologics. I started Humira that day, and within a month, I felt amazing. I was able to put weight on my wrists for the first time in years. My brain fog started to lift, too.
Before I knew it, I was back to my busy, stressful lifestyle. I ditched the diet and figured the medication alone would be enough to manage my disease.
Sure enough, about 3 months into treatment with biologics, I flared again.
At this point, I finally stopped to think: Why is treatment so black and white? Why am I not incorporating both holistic and conventional treatments? I had never considered how powerful it would be to treat my arthritis from both ends of this spectrum.
I started with managing my stress. I took a step back from work, cutting down to part-time hours. This gave me more time to take care of myself, rest, and reflect on what I really needed.
I had never considered how powerful it would be to treat my arthritis from both ends of this spectrum.
I started meditating and practicing yoga. I took a step back from intense exercise and replaced it with walking and bodyweight strength work. I began acupuncture treatments to help with the tension in my jaw and shoulders from years of chronic stress.
I slowly started to cut out some foods that trigger my inflammation, being mindful of balance to avoid getting overwhelmed again. I also cut out alcohol, something no doctor or coach had ever suggested but was absolutely contributing to my inflammation.
Over the course of about a year, my body started to heal. The inflammatory markers in my blood work slowly decreased, and my symptoms improved.
I finally feel as though I have found the right balance for treating my disease. I still have flares occasionally, and there are some pains that will never go away due to permanent joint damage. But my flares are more manageable now. Most importantly, I’ve created a lifestyle that I can maintain and that feels right for me.
I recognize that for some people, alternative treatments alone work great. For others, conventional medication gets the job done. I personally feel best with a balance of both. So, I continue taking my biologics, but I also manage my stress levels by incorporating meditation, yoga, and acupuncture into my regimen.
Coming to terms with the fact that managing PsA is a very personal journey and will look different for everyone is a very freeing realization. It’s OK to try different approaches to find what works best for you.
Medically reviewed on October 28, 2022
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About the author
Meaghan was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 2, and psoriatic arthritis at age 26. She is now 28 and living in New York. She is passionate about raising awareness for psoriatic arthritis. Meaghan shares her story to help others find a diagnosis and to find community through shared experiences. You can follow her journey on Instagram.