Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 30 million adults in the United States (1).
The disease, commonly called degenerative joint disease, is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage and bone within the joints. It progresses slowly, yet its symptoms are often debilitating and can include stiffness, reduced range of motion, swelling and pain.
Those battling osteoarthritis are often given both prescription and over-the-counter medication to deal with pain, yet since medications can produce side-effects (2), the first line of defense is often physical therapy, weight loss, regular exercise, etc. In some cases, surgery is also considered.
Since osteoarthritis can cause stiffness and aching, those who have the diseases can be reticent to take part in physical activity. Often, elderly persons in particular fear they will fall or exacerbate pain while performing typical indoor exercises. Chair yoga, however, is proving to be a safe yet highly effective way to reduce pain and improving quality of life, while reducing the need for medication (3).
A new study published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has shown that patients with osteoarthritis affecting their lower extremities (feet, ankle, knee, hip) can benefit from chair yoga’s pain soothing properties (4).
In the study, researchers randomly placed 131 older adults in one of two classes: either chair yoga, or a standard health education program. Participants attended two 45-minute sessions every week for a two-month period. Researchers measured pain and pain interference (the extent to which pain affects the person’s quality of life), as well as fatigue, balance, speed, gait and functionality.
The findings indicated that those who had taken part in the chair yoga program had less pain and pain interference during the sessions. The benefits were far-reaching, lasting three months after the participants stopped doing chair yoga. This group also reported greater vitality and improvement in velocity and gait when walking. These benefits lasted only while they were doing yoga, however.
The researchers noted that chair yoga can play an important role in helping patients lead a normal life. Often, difficulties with mobility, stiffness and swelling wrest from a patient’s will to socialize, let alone perform workouts which may be too challenging for them. Chair yoga is ideal for this type of patient, because the chair provides support and yoga can be practiced by participants of all levels.
Yoga has many benefits which go beyond pain relief. These include its powerful ability to lower stress hormone levels. Yoga is currently used in a variety of settings in which stress is an obstacle, including substance abuse rehabilitation and eating disorder centers, and centers for the elderly.
In these facilities, great emphasis is placed on holistic rehabilitation (5), where stress relief is seen as an integral part of improvement.
Yoga plays an important role in instilling mindfulness and soothing anxiety and negative thought patterns; indeed, it can help those facing osteoarthritis focus on enjoying the present moment, rather than dwelling on thoughts about the worsening of their illness.
Yoga works on a physical level, as well, improving strength, balance and flexibility... precisely the qualities which are lost when joint pain is extreme. Regaining these qualities can enable participants to take up other forms of exercise which they may not have been able to practice for many years.
The lead authors note that many pharmacologic treatments quell pain, yet have adverse side-effects (6), such as edema, stomach problems and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke (in the case of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication); cataracts and high blood fat and sugar levels (corticosteroids); stomach problems and vulnerability to infection (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs); and nausea and serious infections (in the case of biologic agents).
The aim is therefore to find new ways of managing osteoarthritis pain in a non-pharmacologic manner, and it looks like chair yoga has already pushed its way to the top of the list.
1. CDC.gov, Osteoarthritis Fact Sheet, accessed February, 2017.
2. Arthritis.org, Side Effects Possible with Arthritis Medications, accessed February, 2017.
3. J park et al, A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of Chair Yoga on Pain and Physical Function Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults with Lower Extremity Osteoarthritis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14717
4. DoYouYoga.com, 6 Benefits of Chair Yoga + 8 Poses to Get You Started, accessed February, 2017.
5. Detox.net, FDA Warns Against DIY Detox, accessed February, 2017.
6. Mayoclinic.org, Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment, accessed February, 2017.