Arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that affects joints. It is characterized by stiffness and pain in joints. It can be accompanied by redness, swelling, and restricted motion. It can start at once or slowly. It can also make the patient disable to do its day to day activities.
Physiotherapy and physical therapy (exercise) also help in maintaining and restoring joint movement by providing strength to muscles.
Yoga is one of the many physical therapies popular for arthritis.
If you already know about yoga, please skip next section and directly jump to benefits section.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means “to unite”.The main aim of yoga is to attain moksha and unite with God. Yoga describes physical, spiritual and mental disciplines that provide health benefits. It originated in ancient India.
There are 8 principles of yoga: Yama, niyama, asans, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, Samadhi. These limbs are not in hierarchical order. Each limb focuses on bringing completeness to the person.
Various studies have shown the effectiveness of Yoga in improving the quality of life. National Institute of Health (NIH) classifies yoga as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It is a practice that provides physical fitness as well as a calmness to the brain. It mainly focuses on gaining control over self, breathe and energy.
Yoga has successively been able to attain psychological fitness by solving the problems of depression, insomnia, stress, and anxiety. It has also been found to increase the hemoglobin and blood flow by increasing the demand of oxygen to body cells.
Yoga has done miracles by preventing chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and sclerosis to hover over us. Use of yoga on daily basis has also found to reduce weight and contributed to fitness of the individual.
Now let’s see how yoga has benefits arthritis patients.
6 Proven Benefits of Yoga In Arthritis
Research proves the efficacy of yoga in reducing pain and other symptoms of arthritis.
1. Yoga helps reduce pain and stiffness in arthritis
It has been found that physical therapy is a better treatment than any other treatment for arthritis. All other treatments reduce pain but physical therapy, in addition to providing, relieve pain also reduces stiffness and increases joint motion.
A study by Sharon Kolasinski, at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, showed that performing yoga once a week for 8 weeks significantly reduced pain and stiffness in patients with knee arthritis. The scientists are yet to answer whether yoga reduces inflammation of joints or not.
It was found that yoga intervention had an adequate positive effect on pain. It also showed that moderate effect on functionality as compared to control groups. The study disclosed that yoga showed a moderate effect on patients’ mood.
What does this mean?
This means that performing yoga once a week for 8 weeks can reduce pain and stiffness related to arthritis.
2. Yoga practices strengthen heart
The cardiovascular disease has been a risk factor for osteoarthritis and rheumatic arthritis.
Yoga can be primary preventive technique followed by doctors and patients in preventing incidences of cardiovascular cases. It regulates risk factors like obesity, stress, lipid profile, blood pressure, type II diabetes and body weight and decreases the chance of having cardiovascular diseases.
Yoga exercises improve blood circulation and increase the biosynthesis of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
What does this mean?
Heart diseases are prevalent in those suffering from arthritis. Performing yoga can reduce the risk of cardio-vascular diseases by improving lipid profile.
3. Yoga helps in weight loss
High body mass adds extra load on the joints especially the knees. According to a longitudinal study, obese women had four times more risk of having osteoarthritis as compared to non-obese women.
Yoga is an effective tool to reduce obesity in obese people without diet constraint.Yoga improves metabolic activities and decreases the glucose absorption. It has been used for years to lose weight and regain body fitness.
It was seen that reduction in weight by women and men decreased the risk of knee osteoarthritis by 21.5%.Few studies have also shown a decrease in pain.
What does this mean?
This means that yoga can efficiently reduce obesity by decreasing the glucose absorption and improving the metabolic activities. Weight loss can help improve arthritis symptoms.
4. Yoga helps in recovering with diseases and injuries
Studies reveal that injury in joints or surrounding tissues (accident or some sports) at any point of time may add a risk to arthritis.
The researchers are still trying to understand the mechanism behind it but they suspect injury/fracture may add factors in joint degradation that are irreversible. Researchers believe fractures potentially alter the joint loading, metabolic and biochemical properties of the cartilage which releases inflammatory cytokines.
Paget disease commonly affects femur, spine, skull, and tibia bones. Developing of this disease is unavoidable in almost all cases but can be prevented by maintaining the joint mobility and avoiding weight gain. Both the preventive measure can be achieved by yoga.
Gout is caused by deposition of an excess of uric acid in the form of needle-shaped urate crystals in tissues and joints. Yoga has a detoxifying effect and removes toxic products from the body as sweat and urine.
What does this mean?
This means that the yoga can improve the mobility of joints affected by injury. Yoga can also excrete the toxins which can cause gout.
5. Yoga practices reduces osteoarthritis symptoms
Researchers state that sedentary life is an important risk factor which can contribute to arthritis and even worsen its condition. They tried to collect pieces of evidence to support their argument.
It was found that yoga can help in increasing physical activities and also improve the physical and psychological health of sedentary individuals.
A cohort study showed that yoga-based strengthening postures improved knee symptoms and mobility but didn’t show any improvement in fitness or gait. This led to hypothesis generation and need for a randomized control study to answer the question.
A pilot study was conducted to assess the feasibility and acceptability of yoga by older women suffering from osteoarthritis. It was concluded that 8 weeks home-based sessions can potentially reduce the stiffness and pain in the joint and is well accepted by the older women.
It was found in a randomized trial that performing yoga for 45 to 90 mins per session for 6 to 12 weeks can reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling but had no change on psychosocial well-being and physical function.
Improvement in walking pain, tenderness, swelling, the range of knee flexion and walking time was observed in a trial which tried to assess the efficacy of hatha yoga when integrated with therapeutic exercises.
Apart from these patients with osteoarthritis may find difficulty in finding the best sleeping position. Many times this disturbance in sleep may lead to insomnia. A study demonstrated that standardized evening yoga may solve the problem of sleeplessness for middle-aged to older women with osteoarthritis .
What does this mean?
This means that the yoga is efficient in reducing pain and stiffness but lack evidences to show that it can improve physical function and psychological health. Yoga can also improve insomnia in osteoarthritis patients.
6. Yoga benefits in rheumatoid arthritis – improves condition of patients
Yoga is considered to be one of the alternative ways of managing of osteoarthritis. With keeping this thing in mind several trials were performed to assess the efficacy of yoga in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
A multicenter study reported that 12 sessions of Yoga for rheumatoid arthritis can significantly improve Rheumatoid arthritis parameters. It also stated that improvement in the parameters increases as the duration of the treatment increases. Similarly, another study stated Iyengar yoga intervention to be feasible and safe for rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Despite small sample size, measuring different outcomes, and other limitations, Yoga shows promising effects in improving conditions of rheumatoid arthritis patients.
A pilot study reported that Yoga can significantly decrease disability index in rheumatoid arthritis patients. This decreased perception of pain decreases depression and improves balance.
What does this mean?
This means that yoga is as good as anti-arthritic medications in improving conditions of rheumatoid arthritis patients by improving parameters like pain intensity, stiffness and inflammation.
Which Yoga Type is best for arthritis?
There are various different styles and forms of yoga taught to the students in different classes.
Each is meant for a specific purpose. Generally ‘Hath Yoga’ is the form that could be recommended for patients with arthritis. This yoga consists of a combination of yoga poses with ‘pranayama’ i.e. breathing technique.
A yoga class generally comprises of 5 components- Asanas (poses), Pranayama (breathing technique), Deep Relaxation, Meditation, and Chanting. Each of the components has its own significance.
Asanas are a series of body postures and pose that help in strengthening the body, enhancing its flexibility and balance. These poses help in the proper alignment of the body organs. These might seem quite challenging at first but with continued practice and persistence, they could be easily mastered.
Each pose needs to be held for some amount of time-based on the experience and ability of the participant. Most of the yoga instructors modify the pose of its duration on the basis of the ability of the participant. As a general rule, one must just perform those poses that could be comfortably practiced without causing any pain or discomfort. The same holds true for the duration of these poses.
Pranayama stands for breathing technique. While it may sound quite simple and obvious but it is an essential part of all the yoga exercises. Proper inhalation and exhalation of air from the lungs during performing various poses is the key to availing useful results. Breathing too fast or too slow have implications in the art of yoga and can also exhibit adverse health effects. Thus it is important to learn the correct breathing technique from your instructor while performing yoga.
Deep Relaxation has stress reducing benefits. It is usually performed at the end of each yoga class and just involves relaxing one’s body and mind by lying down straight on one’s back. It has a positive rejuvenating effect on the participants and is a highly beneficial. It is usually considered as a reward at the end of each class, however not so much for the restless individuals who find it challenging to stay still for a span of 5-15 minutes.
Meditation is a means of spiritual awakening where participants stay in any of the seated asana and try to gather all the minds ability to concentrate on a single point. It can also be performed under the guidance of an instructor and helps in developing a positive and cheery outlook among individuals. It might not be extremely useful for arthritis per se, but is significantly important for the overall health and well-being of the mind.
Chanting is not a part of every yoga class but can be considered as a powerful means of healing the mind, body, and soul. It comprises of certain sound vibrations which when spoken or even heard can have a useful impact on the overall constituents of human body and soul.
Apart from hath yoga, there are other options available too. For instance:
- People who find it difficult to stand or sit on a mat for long periods can perform yoga while sitting in a chair. This modification can be termed as Chair Yoga.
- People with joint pain might want to perform these ‘asanas’ in a swimming pool; a variation known as Water Yoga.
- Viniyoga is an adaptation involving tailoring of yoga poses and asanas to fit an individual’s need. This form provides a lot of flexibility to each individual to perform the appropriate exercises as per their physical limitations and bodily potential.Iyenger yoga involves
- Iyenger yoga involves the use of various props to facilitate in body alignment and poses.
Thus in this way patients have a number of options to choose from. Yoga fits the needs of one and all.
Best Yoga Poses For Arthritis
Yoga Asanas can improve arthritis conditions by providing motion to the stiff body part. Various asanas claim that they are effective in decreasing pain and toughness in joints if practiced regularly.
This asana is relatively easy simple asana and hence named so. In India, people actually perform this asana on a daily basis. The asana is performed by bending the knees to 90 degrees. It improves body postures and opens up stiff hips. It also stretches the spine and provides calmness to the mind.
This asana is performed by sitting in crossed leg position. The feet should be in a relaxed position and spine should be straight.
As the name suggest, it is an asana which has a posture of a triangle. This asana is known to relieve pain in neck and shoulders. It also provides strength to knees, ankle, and legs. Apart from this, it improves digestion and provides psychological calmness. This asana is highly prescribed to arthritis patients as it slowly converts stiffness to an easy motion.
This asana is performed by standing up straight and spreading the legs as far as possible. One foot is turned outwards with toes facing sideways. With bending of hip, lower arm touches the toe turned out and the other arm is faced towards the sky. This is accompanied with inhaling and exhaling of air.
This asana is also known as warrior pose. This asana aims at increasing the strength to the joints. It also increases the blood supply to shoulder, hips, lumber and cervical region, and ankles. It improves body balance and increases stamina. It extremely beneficial in strengthening arms, legs, lower back and releasing pressure from frozen shoulders.
The initial steps of the asana are similar to trikonasanas. Stand straight with hand and leg stretched apart. Head and right foot are turned towards the right with slightly bending with the help of right knee. The asana is repeated with the left leg as well with proper inhalation and exhalation of air.
Vrikshasana tone up muscles of the ankles, toes, knees, shoulder joints and hands. It focuses on increasing the blood circulation in the affected joint. It also contributes in toning up of abdomen and stomach muscles. It also relaxes the mind and improves concentration power.
It is performed by standing straight with legs together. One leg is stretched and kept above the knee on the inner thigh. Then the hands are gently joined above the head so that fingers point towards the sky.
This asana is commonly known as bridge pose. This is a difficult asana to perform but with endless benefits. This asana provides assistances in relieving pain, stiffness and also resolving diseases associated with neck arms and shoulder. This is one of the best
This is one of the best exercises for spine and hip joint. Apart from this it keeps the blood pressure in control and improves respiratory and digestion-related disorders.
This asana is performed by laying down in a supine position on the floor. The knees are bend and foot are properly set on the floor. Slowly the body is raised in such a way that the neck and head are on the floor while the body (hips) is in the air, with the help of hands.
Precautions while performing Yoga
A few key precautions:
- People should not go beyond their capacity. They should remember that their stiffness and pain can’t be reduced at once. They should slowly move out of their comfort zone.
- Arthritis patients should never perform yoga on its own. They should perform under some supervision or instructor.
Patients with severe arthritis should avoid doing asana that can deteriorate their condition.
- Arthritis patients having blood pressure problem should avoid performing asana like trikornasana.
- Any severe pain caused due to asana should be reported immediately.
- The trainer might modify the poses according to the safety and comfort, please abide by that and don’t try the unmodified pose as it may harm you.
In the end.
Thousands of years old practice of yoga has a proven to have a positive impact on quality of life. It is surely a good and recommended therapy for arthritis patients.
Yoga reduces the risk factors like cardiovascular diseases, obesity and several diseases that cause arthritis.It increases the blood circulation in the inflamed joint and surrounding area.
It also reduces the stiffness of the joint and provides motility to the organ. Yoga has a promising effect on all types of arthritis.