How can complementary therapies help autoimmune disease?

Let’s see how complementary therapies can help you with your autoimmune condition. I’m talking about lots of different types of complementary therapies maybe even some you aren’t aware of.

If you have 

🤯 thought that complementary therapies are a luxury to be reserved for special occasions

🤯 thought that it’d be greedy of you to have complementary therapies regularly because they are too expensive

🤯 felt guilty for taking time away from family and/or work to go for a massage or a reflexology session then, you REALLY need to read this blog post. I’m going to change how you see complementary therapies FOREVER and you’ll realise that these wonderful therapies are an essential tool in helping you with your condition. Gone will be the guilt when you see that YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT. Worth the time and worth the money.

You’ll see:

The MAGIC of complementary therapies and how they can help you with rheumatoid arthritis

What complementary therapies CAN’T help with

Some of the many complementary therapies available to you

If they are a good fit for you

I’m dedicating this post to the pre-rheumatoid arthritis Aisling who believed that complementary therapies were all about giant fluffy robes, steam rooms, and saunas followed by a sleep-inducing aromatherapy massage. They were a treat, something that could only happen on a girl’s weekend away in a fancy and eye-wateringly expensive spa.

Don’t get me wrong! I still LOVE a weekend away at a luxury spa. I mean, who doesn’t?

But do you know what? I was wrong. This isn’t what complementary therapies are about at all. They shouldn’t be reserved as only a treat. It should be normal for you to use these wonderful therapies as you go about your day. 

Of course, the fluffy robes and slippers aren’t a reality every day but there are ways to build them into our routine.

Are you ready?

What are Complementary therapies?

There are so MANY things complementary therapies can help you with. I’ve listed just some of them below. But, the greatest thing they can give you is CONTROL. 

Often, with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and chrons (the list goes on…) the first thing that happens after a diagnosis is the feeling of being in control of your life disappears. 


It can appear that there is nothing you can do that will improve the hand you have been dealt. This is where complementary therapies can really come into their own for you. There is PLENTY you can do to give yourself a boost. 

Here is just a small sample of how complementary therapies can help with autoimmune disease

To try to dampen the pain and stiffness in between painkillers 

To help calm a nauseous stomach from both pain and medication side effects.

To carry you through a cloud of fatigue when all you want to do is sleep.

To stay positive which can be really hard when dealing with a chronic illness.

To help with clearing congestion from sinus infections that you may have become more prone to.

To keep stress and anxiety under control. 

To keep yourself motivated and know that you can do anything you set your mind to

What cant Complementary Therapies help with?

This is probably the most important point of this whole blog post! Complementary therapies have their limitations. Yes, they can make your life better. Yes, they can help with managing some symptoms. Yes, they are an invaluable tool when you are living with an autoimmune disease. 

But, here is what they can’t do

They can’t cure or heal permanently

They can’t stop the progression of your disease

They can’t protect your joints/organs from damage

They cant replace medical treatment

There are many treatments that are promoted as natural, but natural does not mean safe. Please keep this in mind when making decisions about your health. 

And, remember a responsible complementary therapist will never tell you that you can control your autoimmune disease without medication. They will work with you to ensure that whatever therapy you want to use doesn’t negatively impact you or your treatment.

What are the different types of complementary therapies?

You might have been recommended to try acupuncture, nutritional therapy, or reiki by Gillian next door who says they’re just WONDERFUL for everything when you mention having a rough time with your autoimmune condition. Well, that means Gilly is a proponent of complementary therapies. And if you’ve been intrigued by her suggestions, here are a few more to consider. I couldn’t possibly cover ALL of the therapies available but, I want to talk about the ones that I have used and that have helped me enormously since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.


Have you ever walked into a room and been hit by a smell that immediately brings a memory back so vividly, that it feels like you are experiencing it all over again?

Maybe it’s the smell of a wood fire that reminds you of Christmas as a child? Or maybe it’s the scent of freshly mown grass that brings you back to a family BBQ last summer? It could even be that you are reminded of a loved one whom you haven’t seen in a while.

Scent is a powerful sense.

It can evoke memories and feelings in such a way that we are transported back to the time we first encountered it. 

We are all familiar with the delicious scent of orange that you can’t help but inhale deeply as your thumbnail sinks into the rind.  Or maybe you prefer the warming aroma of ginger as you peel and chop? But, aside from the intense pleasure of the scents, have you noticed how these various aromas make you feel? The orange may add a little bit of spring to your step. Your stomach that once was gurgling with gusto might have settled down since chopping the ginger. 

This is the magic of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy uses essential oils to help with many physical and emotional issues. They can help clear your sinus congestion, soothe your aches and pains and, help calm your upset stomach. 

Essential oils are mighty when it comes to emotions and moods, too. They can uplift your spirits, promote relaxation, help you with insomnia and provide comfort when you need it.

One last thing to consider about aromatherapy is that it is very personal. An aroma that you may love can trigger a negative memory or emotion in someone else. This means that aromatherapy when used correctly, can be a very effective complementary therapy to help with your autoimmune condition.


Did you know that Cleopatra used to have regular footwork, not unlike reflexology? And, while I can’t promise you a large bath full of milk, I can tell you that this is one of the most nurturing, soothing, and tranquil complementary therapies there is.

In reflexology, the soles of the feet are seen as a map of the body. There are many points or Reflexes that correspond to different systems and organs of the body. During a reflexology treatment, the reflexologist applies pressure to these reflexes using different techniques. By working with the feet in this way, the body and/or specific systems can be brought back into balance.

But! Reflexology is not just limited to the feet. If you can imagine your body split into 10 zones from the top of the head to the soles of the feet and from back to front. Slices, if you like!

These zones start and end in the head, feet, and hands. 

This means that reflexology can be performed on the hands and face as well as the feet just as effectively. 

This is MARVELOUS news for you! Simply put, hand or face reflexology is way easier to use as a self-treatment than foot reflexology for you if you have an autoimmune disease.

Facial Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves scraping the skin with a stone such as jade or rose quartz. It has gained a lot of traction in recent years as a beauty and anti-ageing treatment.

If you have puffy eyes or facial bloating, this technique will be incredible for you. 

🌷It helps with lymphatic drainage which will reduce fluid retention in the face.

🌷It improves circulation

🌷helps to soften wrinkles and 

🌷relieves tension in the muscles of the face and neck.

When you are using the Gua Sha tool on the face it’s important to keep the tool as flat as possible to avoid bruising. This bruising is caused by burst blood vessels. They will disappear after a few days but it’s best to do everything you can to avoid this!

This is MARVELOUS news for you! Simply put, hand or face reflexology is way easier to use as a self-treatment than foot reflexology for you if you have an autoimmune disease.


EFT (also known as Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping) is a complementary therapy that involves gently tapping using your fingertips on acupuncture points. The points are on the face and upper body. EFT helps you to deal with unpleasant memories, negative emotions, and incorrect beliefs. The memories themselves won’t change but the emotions and beliefs that we associate with them can.

 Marma Therapy

Marma therapy is an Ayurvedic practice. Ayurveda is an ancient healing & medicine system from India that is thousands of years old. Marma points are believed to be energy centres in the body. Our life force or Prana flows through them.

 There are approximately 107 Marma points in the body. Marma therapy involves massaging these points to keep the energy flowing easily and release blocked energy. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that any blockages of energy in the body can cause an imbalance which can result in physical symptoms. 

This treatment is best performed using vegetable oils and essential oils targeted to your prominent dosha. The oils are warmed before they are applied to your skin, which is extremely soothing if you find heat provides comfort to your joints.

Indian Head Massage

This is another Ayurvedic practice but is better known than Marma therapy. It involves massage of the shoulders, neck, head, and face. It is one of the most effective methods for stress relief and is incredibly relaxing. If you find that stress triggers a flare for you, then a regular Indian head massage will certainly help with managing the stress and minimising stress-related flares.

Traditionally, vegetable oil such as sesame oil infused with herbs or spices is used. The oils nourish your scalp and hair resulting in strong, healthy, and shiny hair! In fact, I would encourage you to leave the oils on your scalp and hair overnight.

But, it’s not necessary to use oil on the scalp if you don’t want to. The scalp massage will be just as effective without the oil. To avoid dragging the skin on your face and neck, I would always recommend using a small bit of oil on the skin.


Massage is probably one of the most versatile complementary therapies available to you to help with autoimmune conditions but especially those related to or impacting the joints and muscles. Massage can be used to help you relax and relieve muscular tension from day-to-day activities such as bad posture. But, it can also be used to target a specific area that is causing pain and discomfort. 

There are techniques that can be used to drain excess fluid or that use tools to add heat and extra pressure. The choice is endless!

I’ve listed below the various types of massage that I have found beneficial

🌱 Swedish massage- relaxing and relieves muscular tension

🌱 Hot Stone massage- the heat from the stones is heaven on sore joints and muscles

🌱 Warm Bamboo massage – this one is DEEP so be prepared

🌱 Thai Compress massage- the aroma from the herbs and the heat of the compress make this unique

🌱 Lymphatic drainage massage – very light as it moves lymph to reduce excess swelling

🌱 Aromatherapy massage- light, long flowing movements with the scent of essential oils chosen specifically for you

Sound Therapy

This one is a little bit different and often a therapy that’s overlooked. It uses specific vibrations generated by gently tapping on Tibetan singing bowls. The bowls are placed on your body and the vibrations make their way through the body in a ripple effect…similar to a pebble falling into water.

Sound practitioners believe that because our cells and organs vibrate at certain frequencies, any blockages or imbalances in these vibrations can result in physical symptoms. The vibrations generated by the singing bowls can dissolve and remove these blockages. 

 Sound therapy doesn’t have to involve placing the bowls on your body though! The sound from these bowls also can induce a deep meditative state. Listening to a singing bowl meditation can be useful if you are starting out with meditation. The deep resonance of the singing bowls helps focus your mind on your breath.

How do I know they are right for me?

While I hand-on-heart believe that there are massive benefits to using complementary therapies for autoimmune conditions I fully understand that they are not for everyone. At a minimum, I think you need to be able to say “Absolutely” to 

💖already having tried complementary therapies in some shape or form and understand how GOOD they make you feel.

💖knowing that you need to be consistent. A reflexology session once every 6 months is probably not going to give you the results you are looking for.

💖having an open mind. Let’s be honest, if everything I talked about today is a little bit too woo for you, then it’s probably not for you. And that’s ok!

So, am I hearing an ABSOLUTELY?

It’s so expensive to use complementary therapies!

Now, let’s be honest, there is no doubt that living with an autoimmune disease is an expensive business. Going for regular complementary therapy sessions can add to that cost so you probably don’t prioritise them. 

I get it, I really do.

I would encourage you to speak with your local complementary therapist and see if they run special offers. In most cases, you can buy a set of 6 or 10 sessions for a reduced price. It’s like everything else, buying in bulk can save you money!

If you have health insurance check if you can claim back money on therapies such as massage and reflexology.

But, there is another option. You can learn how to do it yourself! This will give you access to these wonderful therapies as and when you need them. 

Its worth remembering the saying “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, you feed him for life”




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