How Yoga Can Help You Combat the Effects of Osteoarthritis

Keep your joints more flexible and reduce pain through gentle stretching

How Yoga Can Help You Combat the Effects of Osteoarthritis

If your joints are stiff and achy, there are yoga solutions to get you moving more comfortably. First, know this: Stiff or achy joints can be a sign of osteoarthritis, a chronic, progressive disease that will affect many of us as we age.

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The good news: Practicing yoga can keep your joints more flexible and can reduce your pain.

How does arthritis happen?

It’s important to understand what arthritis is and how it happens. The term “arthritis” is used to describe more than 100 different diseases and conditions of the joints and musculoskeletal system.

The most prevalent form is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis causes the breakdown of cartilage, the cushioning material between the bones. When the cartilage deteriorates, the bones rub together, causing pain. This disease has been around a very long time, and has even been found in prehistoric skeletons.

The pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis can make you feel like the last thing you want to do is move around. And yet movement is critical to keeping the joints flexible and reducing your pain.

Exercise has long been considered key to maintaining and improving joint function. It also helps strengthen the muscles around the joints, so that sore and damaged joints are protected and aren’t overtaxed.

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However, if you have osteoarthritis, your exercise programs must be gentle and low-impact to keep painful joints from being jarred or injured.

The perfect solution? Yoga!

How yoga can help

The benefits of yoga include improvements in strength, flexibility, stress management (which is important if you’re feeling depressed because of your condition) and balance. Plus, you’ll achieve a better sense of your body and improve your general well-being.

In recent years, research and anecdotal evidence have shown that people with osteoarthritis who practice yoga feel better. In fact, many doctors are beginning to see that yoga can be a useful complement to conventional arthritis treatments.

Most yoga classes include three parts that provide the most benefit:

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  1. Breath awareness and breathing techniques. Learning to be aware of and control how you breathe can influence how you feel. Practicing “yogic relaxation breaths” during a painful flare-up of osteoarthritis can be helpful, especially when movement may be difficult. Calm breathing techniques also calm the stress response.
  2. Movements to improve strength, flexibility and balance. The movements or postures in yoga help keep the muscles around the joints strong and flexible. You also learn proper alignment of the skeleton, which helps alleviate joint pain caused by misalignment. Keep in mind that any movement can be modified to minimize pressure or pain to already achy areas of the body. Yoga meets you where you are and should never cause pain.
  3. Relaxation and meditation. Using relaxation techniques or meditating on a regular basis helps to reduce stress. This is important because it can create awareness and counteract the natural tendency to tighten muscles and become rigid when feeling pain or stress.

Please remember to always listen to your body, and drink enough clean, fresh water, which helps to hydrate. When living with osteoarthritis, it is important to keep moving and breathing to maintain flexibility, reduce pain and improve overall quality of life.

You’ll soon discover that the power you seek is something you already possess. Managing your pain is possible through the practice of yoga.

Yoga specialist Paula Brown RYT-500 contributed to this post.

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Judi Bar, E-RYT 500

Judi Bar, E-RYT 500, is Yoga Program Manager at Cleveland Clinic. Her inclusive style of yoga has brought the ease, benefits and simplicity of yoga to patients, families and caregivers. She also has established one of the first Yoga Alliance-accredited yoga teacher training schools at a major medical institution.
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