Can Yoga Help Improve Arthritis Symptoms?

yogaArthritis is the leading cause of disability and affects one in five adults with most under the age of 65. Researchers with John Hopkins now report that yoga can be safe and effective for people with arthritis. The researchers concluded that eight weeks of yoga classes improved the physical and mental wellbeing of people with knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

This is believed to be the largest randomized trial to examine the effect of yoga on physical and psychological health and quality of life among people with arthritis. The results are published in the Journal of Rheumatology.

The Study

For the study, the researchers conducted a randomized trial of people with two common forms of arthritis. They recruited 75 participants with knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The participants were randomly assigned to a wait list or given eight weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes and a weekly practice session at home. They were assessed for physical and mental well-being before and after the yoga sessions by researchers who did not know which group the participants were assigned to.

The Results

  • The participants that were compared with the control group and those that did yoga reported a 20 percent improvement in pain, mood, energy levels, and physical function. This included their ability to complete physical tasks at home and at work.

  • The participants walking speed also improved to a smaller extent, however, the researchers saw little difference between the groups in tests of balance and upper body strength.

  • They also noticed that the improvements in those who completed yoga were still apparent nine months later.

"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."

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, says the idea for the study grew out of his experiences treating patients with arthritis. "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."

In conclusion, the researchers developed a checklist to make it easier for doctors to recommend yoga to their patients. Bingham stressed that people with arthritis who are considering yoga should talk with their doctors about which specific joints are of concern and about modifications to specific yoga poses.


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