What Is an Arthritis Treatment Center?

Physical therapist assists person with arthritis do therapeutic exercise

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An arthritis treatment center is a “one-stop-shop” that provides specialized care under one roof for patients with arthritis, a condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints.

At arthritis treatment centers, a team of specialized doctors and other healthcare professionals offer treatment, support, and care using standard medicine (like prescription medication and surgery), complementary and alternative medicine (like acupuncture and meditation), or a combination of both.

There are two main types of arthritis treatment centers: an outpatient clinic in a hospital or doctor’s office setting and a holistic medicine center retreat, which may take place at a wellness facility or scenic destination.

What Is an Arthritis Treatment Center?

An arthritis treatment center is a centralized location where patients can receive the care, support, and monitoring needed to control pain and other symptoms, minimize joint damage, and restore physical function.

Because there are several different types of arthritis—from osteoarthritis to rheumatoid arthritis and more—treatment is tailored to each individual. The level of intensive treatment and range of options provided will depend on the type of arthritis treatment center you choose.

Some patients may prefer to use a conventional medical center in their local area. In contrast, others may decide to attend a holistic retreat for complementary and alternative medicine therapies. Research has shown these therapies can help manage the chronic pain that can come with arthritis.

Outpatient Centers

Outpatient centers or clinics that specialize in arthritis are set up to integrate all of the necessary services during each patient’s visit. Typically, outpatient centers offer a wide range of treatment options, diagnostic tests, minor surgical procedures, and other services.

They can be operated by larger hospital systems, or privately owned and operated by rheumatologists (doctors specializing in arthritis). This may be the right choice for patients looking for a traditional clinical medical setting.

Coverage for treatment received in outpatient centers will largely depend on the type of insurance you have and whether the center is in-network or out-of-network. For example, some insurance plans cover many medically-necessary arthritis services and supplies, but there may also be some out-of-pocket expenses involved.

Be sure to check with your insurance provider to get a full list of arthritis services covered at an outpatient center and discuss alternative treatment options with your doctor if necessary.

Specialists Under One Roof

Arthritis treatment outpatient centers offer specialized care under one roof from practitioners in standard medicine, holistic modalities, or both. This may involve diagnosis, evaluation, testing, treatment, and therapy from several members of the medical care team to treat different aspects of the condition and collaborate on your care.

This group of specialists might include:

  • An orthopedist and/or orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating or operating on conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system
  • A rheumatologist, a physician who specializes in musculoskeletal diseases like osteoarthritis and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
  • A primary care physician (PCP) who oversees your general health and helps coordinate medical specialists
  • A clinical nurse specialist who may specialize in rehabilitation and postoperative care
  • A physiatrist, a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • A physical therapist who specializes in restoring movement and mobility
  • An occupational therapist who specializes in regaining daily functional mobility
  • A nutritionist who specializes in using food and nutrition to manage arthritis and promote health
  • A psychologist or psychiatrist who can help you deal with the emotional impact that can come with arthritis
  • A radiologist, a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions using imaging such as X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • A patient advocate and/or case manager who can assist with coordinating care, making medical choices, connecting you to services and resources, and facilitating communications with health insurance companies

Your specific arthritis diagnosis may not require all of the above specialists, or it could include others. Also, by going to an outpatient center connected to a larger hospital system, you may have convenient access to ask for referrals to other physicians or specialists if needed.

Additional Services Provided

Depending on the center, arthritis treatment plans may also offer additional services to help manage how arthritis affects a person’s everyday life. These services may include assistance with:

Holistic Retreats

Holistic arthritis retreats are typically based on integrative medicine, which takes a therapeutic, healing-oriented approach to patient care with alternative and complementary health practices in combination with Western medicine.

Mind-body treatments such as meditation, acupuncture, tai chi, and therapeutic massage would likely be a part of an arthritis holistic treatment retreat. This option is best suited for patients seeking integrative medicine remedies to help manage arthritis, perhaps in conjunction with traditional treatment methods.

The exact types of arthritis treatment and care that you can expect at a holistic retreat will vary by the organization, program, location, and duration. But in general, you might expect to travel to a wellness facility or scenic retreat location and receive overnight care in a more relaxed group setting.

Treatment will usually start with a one-on-one medical assessment and consultation, likely with an integrative medicine physician who treats arthritis but is not a rheumatologist. From there, a schedule of daily treatments tailored to the patient will be provided.

As an example, the physician may recommend incorporating an anti-inflammatory diet to control joint inflammation, and adding acupuncture and massage therapy sessions to help ease pain.

Though more insurance companies are covering complementary and alternative medicine services, the extent of coverage for holistic retreats may be more limited. Paying out-of-pocket for a holistic arthritis treatment retreat could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the location, services offered, and length of stay.

That said, it’s worth checking with your insurance plan on what types of arthritis treatments are covered, as it’s possible that rehabilitative retreats that address chronic conditions may be more likely to be covered than a general wellness retreat.

If you choose a holistic option, keep in mind that the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA) emphasizes the importance of having a fully-licensed, trained physician-level specialist (such as a Medical Doctor, Doctor of Osteopathy, or Naturopathic Physician) on your care team to diagnose and treat health conditions.

Alternative Arthritis Treatments

Holistic arthritis treatment may include alternative therapies that fall under Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine that originated in India, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which utilizes treatments like acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal medicine.

Organizations like the Arthritis Foundation and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a division of the National Institutes of Health, track scientific evidence on the effectiveness of alternative treatments for arthritis. Some of the most common include:

  • Yoga and tai chi: In general, regular exercise is strongly recommended for arthritis patients to strengthen muscles around the joints and maintain bone health. Studies have found yoga and tai chi to be beneficial for pain relief in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis patients.
  • Anti-inflammatory diet: While there is no known diet that can cure arthritis, experts have found that eating anti-inflammatory foods may reduce pain and inflammation, and reduce the risk of arthritis flares.
  • Meditation: There is mixed research on whether mindfulness meditation can be effective in minimizing pain, but it may be a helpful relaxation technique for some arthritis patients when used in combination with traditional treatments.
  • Balneotherapy: Bathing in mineral water to promote better health, or balneotherapy, may reduce pain in osteoarthritis patients, according to some preliminary studies. More research is still needed to confirm the findings, but the NCCIH considers it a generally safe option to try.
  • Cupping: Little research has been done on the practice of cupping to reduce arthritis pain, which involves applying a cup to the skin and creating suction to ease pain, though some study results have shown promise. Be aware that it can leave temporary marks on the skin and has the potential to draw blood.
  • Topical or oral herbal remedies: There’s not much information available on the safety of orally ingesting or applying herbs like Boswellia serrata to the skin. Commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine for health benefits, one recent analysis found evidence that Boswellia serrata reduced pain and improved physical function in osteoarthritis patients.
  • Therapeutic massage: Research suggests that massage therapy with or without certain essential oils can relieve pain and stiffness for osteoarthritis patients.
  • Acupuncture: The American College of Rheumatology recognizes the use of acupuncture as a safe therapeutic option for arthritis patients in addition to traditional treatment. Studies suggest acupuncture may have pain-relieving benefits, but more research is needed to back up this claim.
  • Hypnotherapy: Some studies have found that hypnotherapy, the practice of guiding a patient into a trance-like mental state, may be helpful in significantly reducing pain for chronic conditions like arthritis.

Herbal remedies and supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before using them, to avoid any serious side effects or complications. It’s also worth checking the FDA’s list of tainted arthritis/pain products to steer clear of.

Finding a Reputable Center

Because each holistic arthritis center or retreat is different, it may be helpful to research the facility or program’s track record, staff, and results to make sure you’re choosing a reputable option. Here are a few suggested questions to keep top of mind:

  • What type of physician will be on staff?
  • What other specialists will provide treatment?
  • What types of treatment services are offered?
  • Will there be support or follow-up when treatment is complete?
  • Are there any previous patients who can talk about their experience being treated here?

While there’s no formal accreditation organization for holistic arthritis treatment centers or retreats, the Arthritis Foundation recommends checking with the University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, or the International College of Integrative Medicine to locate integrative health practitioners throughout the country.

These resources may be able to provide more information on reputable centers. It might also be worth checking with your state health department about certifications or red flags to watch out for.

For general arthritis support, information, or referrals, you can call the Arthritis Foundation’s 24-hour hotline at 1-844-571-HELP (4357).

A Word From Verywell

Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain, but it’s not the only cause. If you have joint pain, stiffness, or swelling that lasts for two or more weeks and suspect you may have arthritis, check with your primary care physician to get a referral to a specialist for a diagnosis.

From there, you and your doctor can decide whether a holistic retreat or outpatient center approach would be the best option for your arthritis treatment.

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