Yoga for Joint Pain
With over 100 different “types” of yoga, it is a practice that involves breath exercises while integrating various stretches and holding poses. It is often accompanied by meditation and mindfulness techniques. This combination has a history of success in improving the overall health and wellbeing of practitioners, but there is also evidence to support yoga as a targeted intervention for areas of pain in the body. Yoga to address joint pain, for example, is one way healthcare professionals are integrating this method for positive health outcomes.
What is yoga?
Typically considered a safe, low-risk, low-impact, cost-effective treatment option, the ancient art of yoga can address issues related to physical, mental, and even spiritual health. Yoga integrates breathing exercises, meditation, and other mind-body health strategies to combine physical activity with mental strength.
The origins of yoga began in northern India nearly 5,000 years ago. A combination of movement through physical postures, breathing, and meditation, yoga continues to change over time to suit the growing needs of its diverse followers. The yoga most Americans know and love today is a more modern, Westernized approach that only gained momentum in the 1920s. As evidenced by its tremendous benefits and positive health outcomes, it is not just a fad, science actually confirmed its success!
What are the benefits?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports yoga can help with a wide range of health concerns, including:
· Weight Management
· Blood Pressure
· Cardiovascular Health
· Reducing anxiety
· Stress Management
· Healthy eating and activity habits
Yoga practitioners often self-report feeling happier, more energized, more relaxed, and more connected to their community.
To find new, nonpharmacological solutions to painful conditions, many scientists have prioritized research related to pain and yoga.
-Chronic Pain -
Not surprisingly, research suggests that yoga is an effective intervention in reducing inflammation caused by many chronic conditions and diseases. In a study looking at the benefits of yoga on military veterans’ chronic low-back pain, scientists found significant improvements. Experts have repeatedly highlighted yoga’s ability to lessen chronic pain (lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, carpal tunnel, etc.) because of various integrated relaxation techniques.
According to reviews from the NCCIH, yoga has been used for low-back pain and neck pain, with promising results. The American College of Physicians recommends yoga as an initial treatment for chronic low-back pain.
-Cancer Treatment -
Considered one of many “mind-body” therapies, yoga has shown efficacy in treating common cancer-related side effects, including nausea and vomiting, pain, fatigue, depressive symptoms and improving overall quality of life. Indeed, an extensive literature review of over 81 research articles revealed yoga interventions to produce the same (or even superior) health outcomes as physical exercise.
No matter the cause, joint pain can be very debilitating. Frequently, joint pain is caused by arthritis, which is an umbrella for all kinds of joint pain and related conditions. In a systematic review of the effects of yoga patients with knee osteoarthritis, results showed powerful evidence of yoga’s positive impact on pain relief, mobility, and quality of life. The postures and poses in yoga help patients maintain strong and flexible joints and proper skeletal alignment, which reduces pressure in affected joints.
A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania showed that yoga could provide relief for people with hand osteoarthritis as well. With a daily yoga routine, study participants experienced improved hand pain and motion in as little as 8 weeks! Another research project looked at the possibility of using yoga to improve hand grip strength in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Through this trial, experts determined a consistent yoga practice improves hand grip for individuals with RA. More and more research suggests yoga as an alternative and complementary approach to arthritis. It is exciting to see what the future holds for research in this area. Additional studies show yoga improves muscle strength, stamina, as well as balance and flexibility.
-Mental Health -
With the meditation, breathing, and mindfulness practices built into the practice of yoga, much research also shows yoga to improve mental health as well. This only further supports the benefits of yoga for pain in the body and the mind.
Clearly, yoga provides relief for individuals suffering from joint pain and related conditions. Part of the beauty of yoga is the ability to modify each practice to meet individual needs. This means different patients can have very different yoga experiences in order to meet their unique circumstances and goals. Of course, it is important to begin any yoga practice under the care and supervision of a trained yoga instructor, especially if you suffer from joint pain or other health conditions. As a general rule with yoga, if it hurts, stop doing it. There are many alternative poses and modifications a trained professional can suggest in order to ensure a safe and positive yoga experience. With the great variety yoga offers, it is certainly a pain management method worth trying.
Dash, M., & Telles, S. (2001). Improvement in hand grip strength in normal volunteers and rheumatoid arthritis patients following yoga training. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 45(3), 355–360.
Djalilova, D.M., Schulz, P.S., Berger, A.M., Case, A.J., Kupzyk, K.A., & Ross, A.C. Impact of Yoga on Inflammatory Biomarkers: A Systematic Review. Biological Research For Nursing. 2019;21(2):198-209. doi:10.1177/1099800418820162
Groessl, E. J., Weingart, K. R., Aschbacher, K., Pada, L., & Baxi, S. (2008). Yoga for veterans with chronic low-back pain. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 14(9), 1123–1129. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0020