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Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Yoga: An Alternative Exercise Routine for People with Arthritis Print E-mail

Looking for new exercises for arthritis? Think yoga. This ancient system of exercise uses special postures to stretch, strengthen, and align the body. Yoga also uses breathing exercises and meditation to focus the mind and promote relaxation.

Today, yoga is one of the hottest fitness trends around. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes, including people with arthritis, are discovering the joys of an exercise which calms your mind while toning your muscles and loosening your joints.

If you can't sit cross-legged, much less wrap your legs around your head, don't worry. Yoga can be tailored to your individual needs and ability level. If you have arthritis, a gentle yoga program may be a great way to keep moving without putting too much strain on your joints.

"Done correctly, there is no bouncing, no impact, and no pushing yourself beyond your limits," says Larry Payne, Ph.D., a Los Angeles yoga therapist and coauthor of Yoga Rx.

A well-trained yoga instructor can show you how to modify the postures as needed, so they provide a good quality workout.

Relief from Arthritis Pain?

Can yoga also help relieve your arthritis symptoms? To date, only one small study of yoga for arthritis pain has been published in a Western medical journal. The study included 17 people with osteoarthritis of the hands, some of whom were randomly selected to take part in a 10-week yoga program that focused on upper body work (Journal of Rheumatology, 1994).

"The yoga group showed significantly greater decreases in pain and tenderness and improved range of motion," says Marian Garfinkel, Ed.D., a faculty lecturer at Drexel University who was the lead researcher.

More studies need to be done on the possible benefits of yoga for arthritis pain. In general, though, yoga may enhance your flexibility and strength and leave you with an increased sense of well-being.

"Right after class, you should feel better," says Garfinkel.

The next day, you might feel a little sore, since you may be using muscles in yoga class you never use in everyday life. If you feel searing pain, something is definitely wrong. The best way to prevent overdoing it is by listening to your body, especially when it's saying "no way."

Helpful Hints

Here are some more things to keep in mind if you're interested in trying yoga:

  • Find a good yoga class. Don't try to learn it from a book or video alone. An experienced instructor can show you how to do the postures just right, so that you maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of injury.
  • Pick a qualified instructor. The key is to choose someone who is familiar with both arthritis and the therapeutic use of yoga. Unfortunately, while several organizations certify yoga instructors, there is no single certification recognized as the industry standard. Your doctor or hospital may be able to recommend a well-trained teacher who is also knowledgeable about arthritis.
  • Choose a gentle style. There are several styles of yoga taught in the United States today. Some are considerably more fast-paced and physically demanding than others.¬†¬† "For most people with arthritis, a class that takes a more conservative, gradual approach to the poses seems sensible," says Garfinkel.
  • Talk to your doctor first. Ask if there are any specific moves you should avoid. It may help to take along a book with pictures of the postures. Then, be sure to discuss any limitations or concerns with your yoga instructor

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