The most recent EULAR recommendations for pain management in inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis (OA) include physical activity and exercise as a part of a patient’s treatment plan. Physical activity has been shown to significantly ease joint pain and increase mobility, for this reason, exercise is increasingly being prescribed by physicians and other healthcare providers.
Some examples of well-known and effective exercises for people with arthritis include walking, biking and swimming. These are low-impact aerobic exercises, meaning they will generally be easier on the joints and cause your heart rate to increase. Are there other activities that could also benefit people living with arthritis, such as yoga?
Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices which originated in ancient India. Yoga increases flexibility, balance and muscle strength, improves fitness, and relieves pain. A recent study conducted by a team of researchers in China found that if practiced regularly, yoga can effectively alleviate pain and improve joint function for people with knee arthritis. According to the researchers, whole body benefits involve “reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and metabolic regulation.” A healthy metabolic regulation affects how your body absorbs the nutrients it is getting.
The specific research method used in this study was a meta-analysis. Researchers looked at previous studies where yoga was used as an intervention to treat knee arthritis, and then analyzed the results of all of these studies to determine the efficacy of the activity. In total, 13 clinical trials with 1,557 patients with either knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis were analyzed, with a specific focus on how yoga impacts pain reduction, joint function, and general wellbeing. This research method provides a more wholistic picture on the impacts of yoga on arthritis outcomes than a single study would.
Researchers concluded that if yoga is practised regularly, it is helpful in reducing symptoms, promoting physical function, and general wellbeing for patients with knee arthritis. They added: “This review indicates that yoga intervention could be used for relieving OA pain; however, in the absence of high-quality studies with low risk of bias, the true benefits of yoga, although promising, are still undetermined.”
Researchers believe that there are two reasons why yoga can help reduce pain in patients with knee arthritis:
- Yoga increases joint stability by strengthening muscles and therefore, reduces physical pain. Strengthening the knee muscles to support your body weight is a primary goal in an arthritis treatment plan.
- Yoga promotes proper body positioning and helps reduce stress. The stress reducing component is effective in pain management for patients with knee arthritis.
In addition, people who practiced yoga also experienced an increased awareness of their mental health. They were found to be more accepting of their condition and more detached from the psychological experience of pain.
While more research is still needed, yoga is a fun form of physical activity that can be practiced anywhere, either alone or with others, making improving arthritis outcomes even more convenient. To learn more about exercise and arthritis, listen to this JointHealth™podcast featuring physiotherapist and researcher Linda Li, from Arthritis Research Canada.