Does yoga improve arthritic symptoms?
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability and affects nearly 1 in 5 adults. Without proper management, arthritis affects not only mobility, but also overall health and well-being and hence quality of life.
Although there is no cure for arthritis currently, one important way to manage arthritis is to remain active. Yet most people with arthritis tend to reduce their activity, perhaps due to the pain and stiffness but also because they are unsure of how best to remain active.
Does yoga really work to improve physical arthritic symptoms like pain and stiffness, or psychological issues like stress and anxiety? The answer is not a simple YES or NO as there have not been enough studies done with large numbers of people but the general consensus is that yoga does help with the management of arthritis. Johns Hopkins researchers report that 8 weeks of yoga classes improved the physical and mental wellbeing of people with two common forms of arthritis – knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
There are several possible causes for a joint to become arthritic. Being over 40 is linked to the development of arthritis due to muscle weakening and a slower healing rate – our body becomes less able to repair damaged bone areas. Being overweight will increase the load taken through the joints and affect joint stability – this can alter how you walk and lead to muscle weakness. Trauma to a joint can lead the development of arthritis later in life. Other factors such as your genetics, gender and other medical history are also linked to arthritis.
What a lot of people don’t know, is that osteoarthritis is actually a type of natural repair process. In our body, the cells and minerals that make up our bones are constantly being replaced and renewed to improve bone structure, repair damage and bone growth. This is called osteogenesis and is a well-balanced process. However, when minor trauma occurs (e.g. a small knock, altered weight-bearing, repetitive stresses); osteoarthritis compensates the replacement and renewal process, leaving a structurally altered but symptom-free joint. It is only when the trauma is significant (e.g. a fracture), that the process of osteoarthritis cannot compensate, potentially leading to the above symptoms in the future.
Many people turn to yoga as a way to exercise gently, as well as to reduce tension and improve joint flexibility. Individuals with limited range of motion or poor flexibility, due to arthritis or otherwise, may benefit the most from yoga practice, as it can increase flexibility, strength, and balance. Even if you are unable to kneel or have difficulty getting up and down, modifications are available. Yoga builds muscle strength and improves balance which in-turn eases some of the symptoms of arthritis. It is important that your yoga instructor is aware of your condition and will modify the postures to suit your needs.
Most importantly, yoga offers people with arthritis a form of exercise that is enjoyable enough to do regularly and can be done to each individual’s ability level.
Yoga provides a safe environment for arthritis sufferers to exercise to help manage their symptoms. It’s not the only thing you do, but it is a component of an overall healthy regime that may also include cardiovascular exercises like walking, swimming or a low-fat diet. Yoga practice helps develop the body and mind, bringing a lot of health benefits, yet is not a substitute for medicine and is not the complete solution for arthritic patients.