Yoga Rocks Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can put a real damper on quality of life for the more than 50 million people in the United States who live with these diseases. Yoga could be an answer to symptom relief for both body and mind, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (JHUSM).
Nearly 10 percent of adults and around 3 percent of children in the United States practice yoga for a variety of reasons ranging from relief from stress and tension to managing symptoms of headache, lower back pain, menopause, and depression, and improving balance, flexibility, breathing (asthma and COPD), and more.
Relief from symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis when practicing yoga have been reported anecdotally and from the research. However, only a limited number of studies have been done.
Yoga and arthritis
In this latest study, Susan J. Bartlett, PhD, adjunct associate professor of medicine at JHUSM in Baltimore and associate professor at McGill University in Canada, and her colleagues enrolled 75 sedentary adults (age 18 and older) who had either knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
The fact the subjects were sedentary is important because up to 90 percent of people with arthritis fail to get the amount of physical exercise that is recommended; namely, at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Therefore, these participants represented the majority of adults who live with these two forms of arthritis.
People with arthritis don’t meet the exercise recommendations for various reasons, including the presence of pain and stiffness or they are afraid or unsure of which exercises are safe for them. Yoga may solve these concerns.
Bartlett noted that “Yoga may be especially well suited to people with arthritis because it combines physical activity with potent stress management and relaxation techniques and focuses on respecting limitations that can change from day to day.”
The issue of safety was addressed by another coauthor of the study, Clifton O. Bingham III, MD, associate professor of medicine at JHUSM and director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. He pointed out that until now, no well-controlled study of yoga had been performed to explore whether the practice was effective and safe for individuals with arthritis. Safety is a significant concern among both health professionals and patients because of how changing positions might impact the joints.
Yoga and arthritis study
The participants were randomly assigned to participate in a one-hour Hatha yoga session twice a week for eight weeks. In addition, they were asked to practice at home once a week. The remaining participants were placed on a waitlist.
It’s important to note that the yoga sessions were specially designed for each person’s individual needs and capabilities. Only experienced yoga instructors were used, and they had been trained to deal with arthritic participants.
In addition, each participant had the blessing of their healthcare provider to take part in the study. All of the enrollees continued to take their regular arthritis medication during the study.
Here’s what the authors found:
- Adults who participated in the yoga sessions reported a 20 percent improvement in mood, pain, and energy levels when compared with individuals on the wait list
- Yoga participants also reported a 20 percent improvement in their ability to perform everyday tasks at work and at home. These improvements were still valid nine months after the study ended
- Walking speed also improved among those who practiced yoga
What you can do
If the idea of practicing yoga to help relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis appeals to you, first consult with your physician. The two of you should identify which of your joints need special attention and how yoga poses can be modified so you will be safe.
Locate a yoga instructor who has worked with arthritis patients and who is willing to take some time to work with you individually. Begin with a gentle yoga class or one especially for arthritis patients. Svaroopa yoga and Hatha yoga are two forms to consider.
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Moonaz SH et al. Yoga in sedentary adults with arthritis: effects of a randomized controlled pragmatic trial. Journal of Rheumatology 2015 Apr 1; 42(7): 1194-1202