Yoga for Arthritis
Tens of millions of Americans deal every day with the pain and stiffness created by arthritis. Many cannot find adequate relief from conventional medical treatment and seek other forms of care to ease their suffering. Yoga can be helpful in treating arthritis, and is an alternative to prescription drugs that may have unpleasant side effects.
How Can Yoga Help Alleviate Arthritis?
Yoga is a meditative form of exercise that can be used to improve a your flexibility, strength, and ability to deal with stress. By providing a variety of movements that are easy on your joints, yoga can help increase your range of motion and decrease pain associated with arthritis. Often arthritis patients restrict their movement to avoid pain; however, this decreased motion leads to a stagnation of toxins and waste products within the muscles and joints. The gentle movements of yoga slowly open the joints and increase blood circulation to the affected areas, relieving pain and inflammation.
Yoga also provides a variety of other health benefits to arthritis suffers. Many practitioners of yoga experience increased energy levels and decreased depression, fatigue, and anxiety. The relaxation and mental calmness from regular yoga practice has innumerable benefits to all aspects of health.
Yoga can be started with gentle movements while sitting in a chair or lying on the floor. Gradually, weight-bearing standing postures can be added with the support of a wall, counter or table, wall ropes, chairs, blocks and other props. These will safely increase range of motion in all the joints and improve strength and flexibility.
Turn Your Chair into a Yoga Tool
A growing number of yoga centers now are offering chair yoga, which involves yoga moves with relaxation exercises for participants who are seated in a chair or wheelchair. Chair yoga participants can experience the same benefits as regular yoga practitioners, including diminished pain and stiffness and improved joint stability. Seated yoga should be performed in an armless chair with a straight back, legs hip-width apart and feet firmly on the floor. Chair yoga participants also might occasionally do some standing poses using chairs as supports.
Laughter yoga, called Hasya, uses guided breathing exercises and playful activities to trigger laughter. Studies have shown that laughing stimulates blood circulation, boosts the immune system and reduces stress. Laughter also assists with pain management by releasing endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
Yoga for Pain Management
Stress is a trigger for pain, and yoga relieves stress. In addition, when yoga is done in a group setting, participants receive social interaction, which might decrease the depression that often comes with a chronic condition. Yoga also teaches more tolerance for discomfort.
Are There Yoga Poses to Avoid?
Consult a doctor or physical therapist about a specific yoga regimen to see if there are any movements to avoid. The main guideline for arthritis patients doing yoga is, if a pose hurts, stop immediately and consult a doctor if the pain persists. Usually, pain indicates the body is being pushed too far, even if the effects are not felt until the next day. If joint soreness lasts more than two hours after a workout, the program needs some adjusting.
Be gentle, especially when starting. If there is no pain for a few days following a yoga session, then the intensity of poses can gradually be increased. Err on the side of caution and pay attention to the body’s messages.
In general, avoid yoga moves that involve running, squats with heavy weights, jumping, quick changes of direction, or exercises that move the leg away from the body. Be careful with backbends; they should be kept relatively small, keeping the head in line with the rest of the spine and avoiding hyper-extension of the neck. When arthritis manifests in the hip, be careful with poses using extreme external rotation of the hips.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a mind-body practice dating back to ancient India. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “yoke or union,” indicating that yoga yokes the mind with the body. The practice includes a variety of styles and techniques used to enhance health and mental development. It often combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation.
Benefits of Yoga
Current research suggests that yoga can:
- Increase strength and flexibility
- Assist in dealing with depression, anxiety and insomnia
- Reduce stress
- Improve sense of well-being
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Improve muscle relaxation and body composition
- Enlarge lung capacity
- Positively affect levels of certain brain or blood chemicals
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints between bones, often as a result of wear and tear on the body, or from injury, infection or autoimmune disorders. Rather than simply taking drugs to dull the pain—and risking the negative side effects—people are regaining control over their lives by finding alternative treatments for their arthritis, such as yoga.
People with certain medical conditions should not perform some yoga practices. For example, people with extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, severe osteoporosis, disc disease of the spine, retinal detachment, fragile or atherosclerotic arteries, ear problems, cervical spondylitis, or who are at risk of blood clots, should avoid certain inverted poses.
If you are pregnant, seek expert guidance about yoga poses, as certain positions might be problematic. Excess weight can put additional unnecessary strain on one’s joints, making movement more painful. Losing those extra pounds can reduce joint stress and lessen pain. Studies indicate yoga can help people become leaner.
Do not use yoga as a replacement for conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem. Tell your health-care provider about your interest in using yoga, including what poses and exercises the program will include. This will provide a full picture of what you are doing to manage your health so your medical professional can keep treatments coordinated and safe.
Finally, be sure to ask the yoga instructor about the physical demands of the type of yoga in which you are interested, and find out about the training and experience of the yoga teacher you are considering.
Yoga poses for arthritis patients
Yoga, the Antidote for Arthritis
Chair yoga video on YouTube
Fishman, Loren, MD. Yoga for Arthritis: The Complete Guide.