February 2, 2018
Is arthritis causing you pain in your hips, knees, hands, or another joint? The nagging, steady achiness, stiffness, and sometimes outright pain can make the prescription of exercise sound like a cruel joke. “Exercise with this pain? Are you kidding me?”
If your arthritis is causing you to be more sedentary and less active, you should know that there are hundreds of studies that show a regular program of exercise can help people with arthritis. If the thought of exercising is often deterred by pain that can make just walking difficult, you might consider yoga. Research has shown that yoga can be an effective and safe way of getting sedentary individuals with arthritis to safely increase physical activity.
If yoga conjures images of contortionist poses for only the most flexible, the reality is beginning yoga classes can provide you with the safe, simple, gentle movement effective for building strength, balance, and yes, flexibility, to allow you to gradually shed a sedentary lifestyle and relieve your arthritis.
What is yoga for arthritis?
In simple terms, yoga is a set of theories and practices that combine mind and body movements aimed at improving physical and mental health. A number of studies have shown that yoga for arthritis is an effective exercise according to the treatment guidelines of the American College of Rheumatology.
Yoga has been practiced for centuries, and there have been many modified approaches that can be adapted for people with arthritis. Sharon Kolasinski, MD, is a professor of clinical medicine and a rheumatologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Dr. Kolasinski studied the effects of a modified form of Iyengar yoga once a week for eight weeks on people with knee osteoarthritis. Iyengar yoga allows participants to use chairs, a block, or other aids to help them balance during poses. Participants in her study reported significant reductions in pain, as well as improvements in physical function, and much less stiffness.
How to find a qualified yoga instructor?
Finding the right yoga program starts by consulting with your arthritis specialist. You should discuss general health concerns, your endurance level, your risks for falls and fractures, and whether your arthritis causes instability, limited mobility, or underlying damage that needs to be considered. Ask your doctor for a letter that you can give to the yoga instructor describing your specific medical and musculoskeletal concerns.
Many hospitals and specialty clinics have recognized the value of yoga for their patients with arthritis and now offer classes specifically for them, or have developed relationships with yoga instructors who have classes designed for people with arthritis, or other physical limitations.
Other organizations like the YMCA or your local senior or community center may offer yoga classes for people with arthritis. Otherwise, the Yoga Allianceis a national registration organization for yoga instructors and facilities. Their website offers a directory of certified yoga instructors in your area.
What to look for in a yoga instructor for arthritis?
If you have never attempted yoga, start by looking for beginning or gentle yoga classes and then contact the instructor to discuss your needs and goals. Ask about the instructor’s credentials and experience working with joint conditions.
Also, ask about the style of yoga he or she uses, how long they have been teaching that style of yoga, and how much experience they have in teaching students with arthritis, or other medical conditions. If you need a brief explanation of what the different styles of yoga are and whether they are adaptable for arthritis, Johns Hopkins’ Arthritis Center has compiled a convenient table that compares yoga styles.
A good yoga instructor will understand your needs and show you how to modify the moves for your arthritis, and help you create an overall program that fits your goals.
Once you start practicing yoga, the most important thing is to keep doing it. If daily classes are too much at first, then begin by joining a class two to three times a week.
For additional resources, the Arthritis Foundation offers several publications and even a DVD that can help you get started with yoga and practice your way to less pain.
At Healthcare Associates of Texas, we specialize in finding the optimal treatment for you. Our arthritis specialists will work with you and help manage your pain, and find the best long-term therapy for your arthritis. Call our Appointment Line at (972) 258-7499 or contact us by email.
 Hochberg MC1, Altman RD, et al. American College of Rheumatology 2012 recommendations for the use of nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic therapies in osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee_._ Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2012 Apr; 64 (4):465-74.
 Sharon L. Kolasinski, Marian Garfinkel, et al. Iyengar Yoga for Treating Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Knees: A Pilot Study, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 11, No. 4.