Yoga For Your Joints

Do you suffer from stiffness, pain, or swelling in your joints? You’re not alone. More than 30 percent of Americans experience joint pain at any given time. Pain and disease in the joints is the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Joint pain can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks or exercise. However, regular movement is necessary to keep the joints healthy. Yoga, an ancient practice, may be the ideal exercise to prevent and treat the modern epidemic of joint pain. It’s gentle and low-impact, and it promotes circulation, strengthens the muscles around the joints, increases flexibility, and improves bone health. Keep reading to learn how yoga can help you keep your joints healthy, mobile, and pain free.

A Pain in the Joints

Whether joint pain comes on suddenly during an activity or develops gradually, it can be debilitating and depressing. But joint pain is usually inevitable, and you can almost always do something to make it better.

Pain requires assessment and reflection. Is your pain acute, meaning it’s lasted for hours or a few days? Is it a result of an activity or a repetitive motion? If so, rest and recovery may be necessary and helpful. However, if you’re experiencing chronic joint pain, meaning it’s lasted months, or years, the prescription is almost always more activity, not rest.

Arthritis (a general term used to describe joint pain, stiffness, and swelling) can result from a number of medical conditions, such as Lyme Disease, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disease, or cancer. More than a hundred distinct types of arthritis cause joint pain, including degenerative, inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic types. Osteoarthritis, a condition where the joint cartilage and bone degenerates, is the most common type of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis usually develops gradually during old age and most commonly affects the hands, knees, hips, or spine. People used to believe it was an inevitable part of aging or a result of wear and tear from doing too many jarring exercises. Doctors once commonly prescribed rest. However, this paradigm is changing. Today, it’s increasingly understood that the joints need to move regularly to stay healthy, and physical activity almost always makes joint pain better, not worse.

How Common is Joint Pain - Yoga For Your Joints

Use It or Lose It

Instead of a disease caused by too much exercise, the high prevalence of arthritis today may be better explained by the modern sedentary lifestyle. When a person is sedentary, muscles, tendons, and ligaments weaken and can’t properly support the joints. Moreover, regular movement is needed to circulate synovial fluid, a slippery substance that nourishes and repairs cartilage, around the joints.

Nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population is completely inactive, and older people are more likely than younger people to be physically inactive. It’s probably not a coincidence that older people are also more likely to experience joint pain. A 2005 review of 13 randomized trials suggests exercise is a key way to reduce pain and disability in people who have arthritis of the hip or knee.

Many types of movement are gentle and safe for people with joint pain, including walking, swimming, and yard and housework. Yoga, a 5,000-year-old Indian practice with its roots in Hinduism, offers a gentle way to regularly move, strengthen, and stretch the body, and research indicates it can be healing for the joints.

Yoga for the Joints

Ancient spiritual traditions can be difficult to translate to Western culture. Yoga traditionally combines a series of asanas (physical postures) with meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises). The therapeutic benefits of yoga may have as much to do with relaxation and mindfulness as they do with physical exercise.

Research confirms impressive benefits of doing yoga for joint health. In one study, doing yoga helped patients with osteoarthritis reduce pain and stiffness better than standard physical therapy. In another study, doing yoga three times a week significantly decreased pain and improved general health, vitality, and mental health in patients with knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory autoimmune condition. In other studies, yoga reduced pain and increased function in people with osteoarthritis of the hands, and reduced joint pain in breast cancer survivors.

Yoga classes are offered at gyms and community centers across the U.S. However, not all yoga is the same. If you have joint pain, do some research and choose your yoga practice wisely. Yoga injuries are on the rise, especially among older adults. In one study, 74 percent of people who did yoga saw improvements in existing pain, however, 21 percent of people experienced a worsening of existing pain.

Why You Should Practice - Yoga For Your Joints

Start Where You Are

If you’re new to yoga and have joint pain, look for a gentle, precise form of the practice. Mild, unforced movements are the best way to aid the healing process. Avoid overstretching or straining, which can worsen joint pain.

A hatha, Iyengar, or Viniyoga class may be the best place to start your practice. Hatha yoga classes usually emphasize strength and relaxation and are taught at a slow pace. Hatha is a general term, so classes and teachers need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Iyengar yoga is a specific form of yoga developed by the teacher B.K.S. Iyengar; it emphasizes precise postures and makes use of props to modify poses when needed. Viniyoga is a specific therapeutic type of yoga developed by the teacher T.K.V. Desikachar; it’s usually taught one-on-one and individualized for a person’s ability.

Beginners with joint pain may want to avoid fast-paced, vigorous classes, such as Power Yoga, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Bikram, where joint strain and injuries may be more likely. No matter which type of yoga you choose, an experienced teacher will be able to help you modify poses as needed to suit your physical condition.

Yoga Poses For Joint Pain - Yoga For Your Joints

Too often, pain in the joints leads to a degenerative cycle. It hurts to move, so people move less, making the pain worse. Yoga is a safe, gentle, and effective way to get moving and increase mobility, flexibility, and strength. Moreover, even when someone practices yoga to meet a physical end-goal, such as relieving joint pain, it often teaches other therapeutic skills, such as slowing down and being present. A yoga practice is an empowering way to increase physical activity and regenerate joint health and mobility.

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