If you’re still convinced yoga is all about getting bendy and inverted, it’s time to take a look at some new facts on how this ancient practice can help with stiffness and pain associated with arthritis.
A new study published in the Journal of Rheumatology and believed to be the largest randomised trial of its kind, discovered that yoga can be a safe and effective form of exercise for people with two common forms of arthritis — knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Yes, just 8 weeks of yoga classes is said to be enough to improve the physical, but also the mental well-being of those with this condition.
“There’s a real surge of interest in yoga as a complementary therapy, with 1 in 10 people in the U.S. now practicing yoga to improve their health and fitness,” says Susan J. Bartlett, adjunct associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and associate professor at McGill University
“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.”
It’s hard to believe that this often disabling condition affects 1 in 5 adults, with most being under the age of 65! Without proper management it truly does have the ability to snatch lives, so overall health and well-being isso important.
While there is no magic diet or pill that will cure arthritis, being active physically and mentally will help, though we know this can be easier said than done.
OK, so back to the study. The research recruited 75 people that either had knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The participants were randomly given either a wait list, or 8 weeks of twice-weekly yoga class, with an additional weekly practice session at home. The physical and mental well-being of the individuals was assessed both before and after the yoga classes by researchers who weren’t aware of which group the participants were in.
The results? Compared with the control group, the individuals getting downward dog with yoga reported a 20 per cent improvement in pain, energy levels, mood and physical function, allowing them to complete physical tasks at work and at home that they’re usually unable to do.
Their walking speed improved, too! Not by much, but this is still an advancement in our eyes. There was little difference between the groups in tests of balance and upper body strength, and these improvements were still apparent 9 months later.
Clifton O. Bingham, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Centre, says the idea for the study came from his experiences of treating patients with arthritis. Seeing how yoga was changing the lives of those with arthritis was the reason he became so interested in the first place.
“For people with other conditions, yoga has been shown to improve pain, pain-related disability and mood,” says Bingham. “But there were no well-controlled trial of yoga that could tell us if it was safe and effective for people with arthritis, and many health professionals have concerns about how yoga might affect vulnerable joints given the emphasis on changing positions and on being flexible. Our first step was to ensure that yoga was reasonable and safe option for people with arthritis. Our instructors were experienced yoga therapists with additional training to modify poses to accommodate individual abilities.”
Because the participants were screened by their doctors before joining the study, and continued to regularly take their medication, the researchers have developed a checklist to make it easier for doctors to safely recommend yoga to their patients.
Those considering taking yoga should “talk with their doctors about which specific joints are of concern, and about modifications to poses,” suggests Bingham.
“Find a teacher who asks the right questions about limitations and works closely with you as an individual. Start with gentle yoga classes. Practice acceptance of where you are and what your body can do on any given day.”
In the meantime, swimming and easing arthritis the natural way will help too!