By Aubree Kozie
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis worldwide. It is caused by degeneration of the cartilage that protects bones at the joints over time, causing stiffness and inflammation, even loss of movement in the affected joint(s). Osteoarthritis usually affects those joints that are the most weight bearing. This includes the hips, knees, and lower spine. Factors that add to the development of osteoarthritis include inflammation, biomechanical imbalances which cause excess stress on the joints, (such as slumped posture) and cellular disorders, which break down cartilage (Patel, 2012). Yoga, when used in the proper setting, can provide pain relief and a greater sense of health as a treatment for osteoarthritis.
Yoga as an Alternative Treatment
The benefits of yoga are holistic and it provides benefits for both mind and body in treating osteoarthritis. Physical benefits of yoga include better strength, flexibility, and balance. All of which tend to lower in elder patients, the population that is the most affected by osteoarthritis. This lowering in physical ability can increase risk of injury and pain. Studies show that yoga helps to relieve the stress on the joints. This same stress that can cause or make worse osteoarthritic pain and degeneration of the cartilage. It does so by teaching and making better the balance and alignment habits, which lead to biomechanical imbalances.
Misalignments of bones, dysfunctional movement patterns, poor ability to locate the body in space, and poor posture can all be corrected by doing yoga. Yoga also promotes movement, which eases pain. It does so by increasing circulation in the joints and preventing stiffness caused by a lack of circulation. Synovial fluid pads and greases the joints. Thereby it reduces wear on the cartilage, and is the result of movement as well (Patel, 2012). Additionally, a recent study shows that elder adults with osteoarthritis had reduced pain levels. Also, they also had reduced pain interference (defined as pain that limits functional and social activities) during yoga sessions over an 8 week chair yoga program. Follow up showed that results were lasted for about three months after the study (Florida Atlantic University, 2017.)
Meditation and Mindfulness as Alternative Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Similarly, mindfulness and meditation practices in yoga can provide psychological benefits for the osteoarthritic patient as well. Shortly, meditation allows the mind to have influence in the experience of pain. It can be an empowering technique for those who experience chronic pain. Indeed, studies show that meditation results in the opposite physiological effects of a stress response. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and halting n the fight or flight response set off by the sympathetic nervous system sensing experience of pain. Meditation promotes lower blood pressure and hypertension, slower heart rate, lower cholesterol, reduced production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, raised oxygenation of the body, raised production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA, better immune function and lastly, more restful sleep (Patel, 2012).
Additionally, recent research suggests that psychological stress detected by the amygdala causes the bone marrow to produce an excess of immune cells, which cause inflammation, pain, and wear on the body. Activities that lower stress such as yoga and meditation are shown to be effective in reducing stress, thereby getting rid of excess pain both physically and psychologically. All of these benefits of yoga add to healing and the overall well being of osteoarthritis patients and suggest yoga is an effective alternative osteoarthritis treatment (Walton, 2017).
Yoga is an effective alternative therapy for those suffering from osteoarthritis, helping to relieve both physical and psychological symptoms and offering many forms, such as chair yoga and meditation, which can be easier to those patients with limited movement. Yoga reduces pain, builds strength and flexibility, and reduces stress and emotional disease, giving patients the skills to manage and cope with a disease for which there is no currently known cure. These traits make yoga a good and easy addition to alternative osteoarthritis treatment plans for those suffering from the condition.
Where to learn more:
To study more about yoga for specific health conditions, check out Soma Yoga Institutes Yoga Teacher Training Programs!
Patel, S. (2012). An ayurvedic approach to osteoarthritis treatment. Retrieved from: https://www.integrativepractitioner.com/whats-new/news-and-commentary/an-ayurvedic-approach-to-osteoarthritis/
Florida Atlantic University. (2017, January 11). First study to show chair yoga as effective alternative treatment for osteoarthritis. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 19, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170111091417.html
Walton, A. (2017). The link between stress and heart disease may lie in the brain. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/01/12/the-link-between-stress-and-heart-disease-may-lie-in-the-brain/#2651ce98f67f.