For people struggling with arthritis, taking up yoga may help manage pain, improve daily functioning, and enhance quality of life. Although research on yoga and arthritis is limited, several studies show that a regular yoga practice may benefit people with osteoarthritis (a condition marked by the erosion of cartilage in your joints).
How Might Yoga Relieve Arthritis?
Regular exercise is crucial for preserving joint health, easing joint stiffness, and increasing flexibility among people with arthritis. What's more, exercise is important for protecting against the decreases in muscle strength commonly experienced by arthritis patients. While scientists have yet to fully understand how yoga might benefit people with arthritis, it's thought the practice may help ward off arthritis-related loss of strength and flexibility while reducing joint pain.
The Science Behind Yoga and Arthritis
Here's a look at several key findings from the available research on yoga and arthritis:
1) Arthritis of the Knee
Yoga may alleviate some symptoms associated with osteoarthritis of the knee, according to a 2006-2007 case series involving 15 patients. Compared to study subjects who didn't take part in structured group exercise, those who performed yoga (or traditional stretching and strengthening exercises) for six weeks showed greater improvements in function and quality of life.
In a pilot study published in 2005, meanwhile, University of Pennsylvania researchers found that taking part in a 90-minute yoga sessions once weekly for eight weeks led to significant reductions in pain and disability among seven patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Both reports involved the practice of Iyengar yoga, a type of yoga that emphasizes the physical alignment of the body.
2) Arthritis of the Hands
Yoga may help relieve symptoms associated with osteoarthritis of the hands, according to a small study published in 1994. Compared to participants who received no therapy, patients who practiced yoga for eight weeks experienced improvements in pain, tenderness, and range of motion.
Although yoga shouldn't be used as a principal treatment for arthritis, there's evidence that practicing yoga may have certain beneficial effects for arthritis patients. If you're interested in using yoga to manage your arthritis, talk to your doctor about incorporating yoga into your treatment program. When using yoga for arthritis management, it's important to start with a gentle yoga practice, work with a qualified yoga instructor, and avoid poses or movements that cause you pain.
The Arthritis Foundation. "Introduction to Arthritis Exercise". 2010.
Bukowski EL, Conway A, Glentz LA, Kurland K, Galantino ML. "The effect of Iyengar yoga and strengthening exercises for people living with osteoarthritis of the knee: a case series." Int Q Community Health Educ. 2006-2007;26(3):287-305.
Garfinkel MS, Schumacher HR Jr, Husain A, Levy M, Reshetar RA. "Evaluation of a yoga based regimen for treatment of osteoarthritis of the hands." J Rheumatol. 1994 21(12):2341-3.
Kolasinski SL, Garfinkel M, Tsai AG, Matz W, Van Dyke A, Schumacher HR. "Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: a pilot study." J Altern Complement Med. 2005 11(4):689-93.