A New Study Finds That Yoga Improves Arthritis Symptoms

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By Justin Cowart

In a completely randomized trial, researchers from Johns Hopkins struck out to find out if yoga could not only be a safe, but also effective way to improve arthritis symptoms.

The researchers reported that just 8 weeks of yoga classes improved not only the mental, but also physical well being of people with two different forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and knee osteoarthritis.

This particular study is strongly believed to be the largest randomized trial so far that has examined the effects of yoga on the psychological and physical health and quality of life among the people who are plagued with arthritis. The results of this study were published in the last April issue of the Journal of Rheumatology.

Associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, Susan J. Bartlett, Ph.D. and also associate professor at McGill University, said,

“There’s a real surge of interest in yoga as a complementary therapy, with 1 in 10 people in the U.S. now practicing yoga to improve their health and fitness.  

“Yoga may be especially well suited to people with arthritis because it combines physical activity with potent stress management and relaxation techniques and focuses on respecting limitations that can change from day to day.”

Arthritis – which is the leading cause of disability – tends to affect 1 in every 5 adults, most of whom are under the age of 65. Arthritis, without proper management, can affect not only general health, but also mobility and well being, participation in valued activities and the overall quality of life.

Right now in our modern society, there is no known cure for arthritis, but one very important way to manage arthritis is to remain active. Yet 90% of people who suffer from arthritis are less active than the public health guidelines suggest; perhaps it is due to arthritis symptoms such as stiffness and pain, but most are really just unsure of how best to remain active.

This study recruited 75 different people who had either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. The participants were randomly assigned to eight weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes, including a weekly practice session at their home or on a wait list. The participants’ mental and physical well being were thoroughly assessed before and after the yoga sessions by the researchers who did not know which groups the participants were assigned to.

When compared with the control group, the people who did yoga reported a whopping 20% improvement in their energy, pain, physical function and mood, also including their ability to complete different physical tasks at home and work.

The participants even stated that their walking speed had also improved to a smaller extent; though there was little difference reported between the groups in tests of upper body strength and balance. For those who had completed yoga, their improvements were still apparent even 9 months later.

Director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, Clifton O. Bingham III, M.D., states that the idea for this study grew from his many experiences treating patients with arthritis and said,

“It was watching what happened with my patients and the changes in their lives as a result of practicing yoga that got me interested in the first place.”

During the course of the study, safety was a top priority for the researchers. The participants were thoroughly screened by their doctors before they joined this study and also continued to take their regular arthritis medication throughout the study.

Bingham said that,

“For people with other conditions, yoga has been shown to improve pain, pain-related disability and mood. But there were no well-controlled trial of yoga that could tell us if it was safe and effective for people with arthritis and many health professionals have concerns about how yoga might affect vulnerable joints given the emphasis on changing positions and on being flexible.  

“Our first step was to ensure that yoga was reasonable and safe option for people with arthritis. Our instructors were experienced yoga therapists with additional training to modify poses to accommodate individual abilities.”

The researchers were able to develope a type of checklist to make it much easier for doctors to be able to safely recommend yoga to their patients. If you or someone you know has arthritis and are considering yoga, Bingham strongly suggests to,

“Talk with [your] doctors about which specific joints are of concern and about modifications to poses. Find a teacher who asks the right questions about limitations and works closely with you as an individual. Start with gentle yoga classes. Practice acceptance of where you are and what your body can do on any given day.”

The more we explore alternatives to straight up medication and look at different ways to increase the quality of life with the diseases that plague our society, the healthier and more fulfilling our lives become.

We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about this topic in the comments below!

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Justin Cowart

Justin Cowart

Justin Cowart is a writer and researcher that loves to learn more about health, life, consciousness and making the world a better place. He loves music, traveling, meditation, video games and spending time with family and friends. He believes in baby steps and lifestyle changes in order to live a full life. In 2014, he lost around 40lbs from baby steps and emotional detoxing.
Justin Cowart
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