Does yoga really improve physical arthritis symptoms such as pain and stiffness, and psychological issues such as stress and anxiety?
Many people suffer from stiff, achy joints which is often diagnosed as osteoarthritis, a chronic, progressive disease. The term ‘chronic’ refers to a disease that is managed rather than cured.
Osteoarthritis can affect any age however it is most often experienced as we get older. The pain of arthritis can lead to reduced movement as you seek to minimise the pain, however this can have the opposite effect since less movement can often result in further pain.
Arthritis can have a huge impact on your life
The impact arthritis can have on your life can be huge, not only in what you feel able to do physically but also in your confidence and emotional well-being.
There is however good news. Practising yoga can help curb the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis and also help relieve stress and anxiety.
With osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones gradually loses its elasticity and deteriorates. This is exacerbated with ageing where the cartilage becomes more worn and joints can become poorly aligned.
Cartilage relies on the joint’s natural lubricant, synovial fluid, to wash nutrients over the joint and remove waste from it. The more the joints bend and move the more of this natural lubricant washes over the cartilage allowing it to move easier.
Rather than restricting our movements and moving less, we should aim to move more and move in different directions. This will ensure more of the joint’s natural lubricant reaches the whole cartilage.
When you practise yoga regularly your body is put into more extreme positions than you normally experience during everyday use. Exercise like walking and biking does not move the body beyond a certain range of movements, therefore the cartilage receives less lubricant when compared to yoga moves.
The 2018 study ‘Integrative effect of yoga practice in patients with knee arthritis: A PRISMA-compliant meta-analysis’ used meta-analysis to quantify the efficiency of yoga exercise for patients pain reduction, functional recovery, and general wellbeing.
A meta-analysis study uses a statistical approach to combine the results from multiple studies in an effort to increase power (over individual studies), improve estimates of the size of the effect and/or to resolve uncertainty when reports disagree.
The study concluded that regular yoga training is helpful in reducing knee arthritic symptoms, promoting physical function, and general well-being in arthritic patients.
Regular yoga exercises allow your body to reduce or better manage some of the pain associated with arthritis.
Diet can also contribute to improving the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For those interested to find out more you may like to read Dr John McDougall’s book The Starch Solution.
Dr John McDougall discusses the importance of a starch-based diet, as used by our ancestors who did not suffer to the same extent with arthritis and other illnesses associated with the standard American diet. He puts this down to, amongst other things, the lower inflammation that results from a starch-based diet.
If you have experience of arthritis and yoga we’d love to here your thoughts on this in the comments section below.
Some further reading:
Yoga Therapy for Arthritis: A Whole-Person Approach to Movement and Lifestyle
Top photo by Ryan Baker on Unsplash