Can “downward dog” and “child’s pose” reduce your arthritis pain? Yoga devotees are passionate about this ancient practice, claiming it helps them tone up, chill out, and move with more flexibility.
With the goal of increasing physical and mental health, about 20 million people in the US practice yoga. What was once a foreign religious practice is now mainstream in America.
Read on to find out if a “sun salutation” or two can help your arthritis pain. If you want to try it out and live in a city, you can probably find a yoga studio right around the corner.
Can You “Om” Your Way to Arthritis Relief?
[caption id="attachment_400" align="alignright" width="300"] Hatha Yoga is the most commonly practiced, but Iyengar yoga may be better for arthritis.[/caption]
Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced form of yoga in America today. It combines a series of poses or body postures called Asanas, with a breathing technique called Pranayama. Frequently, people also use mantras, such as chanting “OM” or other sacred words.
“Yoga enhances human health,” says Loren Fishman, M.D., a rehabilitation specialist and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University Medical Center. He studied yoga in India and prescribes it regularly to his patients. “Combinations and adaptations of poses bring different ways to confront different problems.”
Dr. Fishman says yoga is inexpensive, unlike high-tech physical therapy, and has few negative side effects, unlike medications. He adds, “Yoga’s asana are memorable, can be practiced on your own, and are fulfilling in truly marvelous ways.”
Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center reports: “Over 75 scientific trials have been published on yoga in major medical journals showing that yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity that also has important psychological benefits due to its meditative nature. Yoga emphasizes flexibility, postural alignment, strength, endurance and balance, and is associated with a wide range of physical and psychological benefits that may be especially helpful for persons living with a chronic illness.”
How a little “Om” can help your arthritis pain
1. Sleep soundly
[caption id="attachment_401" align="alignright" width="300"]
Yoga is very relaxing, so it can help you sleep more soundly and help reduce pain.[/caption]
If you’ve ever experienced the complete relaxation of savasana
, the yoga practice where you lie quietly and concentrate on your breathing, you likely enjoyed peaceful slumber afterwards. Now studies show that savasana can help cure insomnia
in cancer survivors and women going through menopause
—two groups that often suffer from chronic sleep problems.
People who suffer from the chronic arthritis pain may also experience insomnia, so relaxing yoga poses might be worth a try.
2. Increase energy
Yoga can increase your energy levels. Dr. Fishman says, “Forward bends can increase a person’s calm, while back bends can invigorate people.”
He advises that when you drive at night and feel fatigued, “getting out of your car and doing a few back bends is as good as a cup of coffee.”
3. Decrease pain and stiffness, and increase function
In a 2009 study from West Virginia University, study participants who did regular yoga
had more functional ability than those who didn’t.
A 2013 study found that yoga decreased pain and stiffness
and improved quality of life in women with knee osteoarthritis. The findings showed that pain and symptoms were significantly decreased, and daily activities and quality of life were significantly increased in the yoga group.
4. Keep your joints healthy
“People stop moving with arthritis because it hurts, but that decreases the nutrition to the joint structures, says Shari Ser, physical therapist and yoga teacher.
She explains: “
Pain=no movement=more pain with swelling and inflammation=even less movement. Yoga is perfect for arthritis because it can stop that cycle by providing ways to maintain joint alignment. You need a full range of motion for joint health, and yoga provides that.”
5. Reduce stress and increase positive feelings
Many people with osteoarthritis find that yoga is beneficial because it is something proactive they can do for themselves to cope with this chronic disease. They find that yoga stretches and meditation help reduce stress, helping to gently alleviate the pain associated with arthritis.
Yoga isn’t for everyone
Yoga is not for everyone, and some of the commonly taught yoga poses are risky for some people.
The problems range from relatively mild injuries to permanent disabilities. Yoga’s extreme bending and contortions can lead to back, head and neck injuries, as well as damage to the shoulders, knees, and even to the brain.
According to Glenn Black, a New York yoga teacher
of nearly four decades, a number of factors increase the risk of practicing yoga. He says, “The biggest is the demographic shift. Indian yoga practitioners typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses grew out of these postures. Now urbanites sit in chairs all day. We walk into a studio and strain to twist ourselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite our lack of flexibility and other physical problems.”
How to practice safe yoga
Dr. Fishman provides these tips
for using yoga to help with arthritis pain.
1. Talk with your physician first if you’re interested in using yoga in conjunction with a current treatment regimen.
2. Find an instructor with the experience and the empathy for your individual situation, who can inspire creative remedies.
3. Recognize that yoga, like many medical treatments, can take time to be effective. You may not feel better overnight, but eventually, your practice will pay off.
Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center
offers these tips:
1. If it hurts, stop. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” does not apply to yoga, particularly if you have activity limitations.
2. When doing backbends, arthritis patients should keep them relatively small and be aware not to hyper-extend the neck, keeping the head in line with the rest of the spine.
3. If you have arthritis of the hip, be cautious when doing “hip openers” or poses with extreme rotation of the hips. Generally, you will notice pain if you are going too far with the pose, but sometimes you don’t feel the effects until the next day.
4. Be gentle in your practice, especially at first. If you don’t experience any pain after a few days, you can gradually increase the intensity of the poses.
5. Be cautious and pay attention to your body. Consult your doctor and instructor if you experience any pain or difficulty resulting from yoga practice.