Yoga Shows Benefits for Arthritis Suffers

Yoga may be a safe and effective way to keeping moving for the one in five adults who live with arthritis.

In a randomized trial of people with two common forms of arthritis — knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis — those who practiced yoga had about a 20 percent improvement in physical health with similar improvements in pain, energy, mood and carrying out day-to-day activities and tasks.

The study by researchers from Johns Hopkins is believed to be the largest randomized trial to date to examine the effect of yoga on physical and psychological health and quality of life among people with arthritis.

“There’s a real surge of interest in yoga as a complementary therapy, with one in 10 people in the U.S. now practicing yoga to improve their health and fitness,” says Susan J. Bartlett, Ph.D., an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and associate professor at McGill University “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.”

According to the Arthritis Foundation,

  • More than 50 million U.S. adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis
  • By 2030, an estimated 67 million people will be diagnosed with arthritis.
  • It is the nation’s primary cause of disability
  • Among working age adults (18-64) those with arthritis or a rheumatic condition lose more workdays every year — a combined 172 million– due to illness or injury than adults with any other medical condition.
  • Arthritis and related conditions account for $156 billion annually in lost wages and medical costs, including 44 million outpatient visits and nearly 1 million hospitalizations.

Without proper management, arthritis affects not only mobility, but also overall health and well-being, participation in valued activities, and quality of life. There is no cure for arthritis, but one important way to manage arthritis is to remain active. Yet up to 90 percent of people with arthritis are less active than public health guidelines suggest.

Study participants were randomly assigned to either a wait list or eight weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes, plus a weekly practice session at home. Participants’ physical and mental wellbeing was assessed before and after the yoga session by researchers who did not know which group the participants had been assigned to.

Compared with the control group, those doing yoga reported a 20 percent improvement in pain, energy levels, mood and physical function, including their ability to complete physical tasks at work and home. Walking speed also improved to a smaller extent, though there was little difference between the groups in tests of balance and upper body strength. Improvements in those who completed yoga was still apparent nine months later.

Instructors were experienced yoga therapists with additional training to modify poses to accommodate individual abilities. Participants were screened by their doctors prior to joining the study, and continued to take their regular arthritis medication during the study.

Check out this video from WebMD with yoga poses for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Hopkins researchers have developed a checklist to make it easier for health practitioners to safely recommend yoga to their patients. People with arthritis who are considering yoga should “talk with their doctors about which specific joints are of concern, and about modifications to poses,” suggested Clifton O. Bingham III, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. “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.”

Results were published in the April issue of the Journal of Rheumatology.


photo: Kevin Dinkel