More than 54 million US adults have arthritis, with some cases being worse than others. For those that suffer with joint pain caused from arthritis, sometimes exercising can seem challenging or even counterintuitive. The twisting and turning that go along with yoga can seem like it would worsen arthritic joint pain, not help it. But that couldn’t be more untrue. According to the CDC, when people who suffer from arthritis participate in joint-friendly physical activity, they can improve their arthritis pain, function, mood, and quality of life.
Joint-friendly physical activities are low-impact, which means they put less stress on the body, reducing the risk of injury. These can include low-impact aerobic activities such as walking, cycling and swimming or muscle-strengthening exercises such as lifting weights, working with resistance bands, and yoga.
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Often times, incorporating yoga into your routine can reduce inflammation, which is linked to joint pain caused by arthritis. Yoga is also great to help build strength and improve balance, and can be gentle enough to include and enjoy in an exercise routine regularly. There are many different types of yoga, and numerous gentle poses and flowing sequences you can try out to help with joint pain. You can also include props, like a chair or yoga block, to help you out. Of course, talk to your doctor specifically about your joint pain before doing yoga or any exercises. Once you get the all-clear, here are our favorite yoga poses for joint pain.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can sometimes cause stiffness in the lower back. Child’s pose is a gentle way to stretch out the lower back and alleviate some of that stiffness. Place your knees on a yoga mat and keep the tops of your feet on the floor. Kneel your chest down over your legs and set your hips back onto your heels or feet. Reach your arms out in front of you on the ground and really feel those muscles stretching out as you lay in the pose.
Also great for your lower back is the sphinx pose. “This pose will help you find extension through the muscles in the lower back,” says Samantha Leonetti, a yoga practitioner in Philadelphia who’s studying to be a physical therapist. Lie on your belly with your legs positioned side by side behind you. Gently place your elbows under your shoulders, with forearms on the floor. Inhale, and lift your torso and head away from the floor. This will create a slight bend in your back, which is what you’re looking for.
From the sphinx pose, you can extend into the cobra pose for even more of a lower back stretch. In the sphinx pose, press up from your hands, placing your palms on the ground in front of your shoulders. Your arms will now be extended and your back is in a deeper bend for an added stretch.
Open Book Stretch
The open book stretch is helpful for stretching shoulder and chest muscles. Lie on your side and keep your knees together, bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your hands together, with arms outstretched in front of you. This is the “closed book” portion of the stretch. While keeping your knees together, begin to open your hands away from each other while rotating your top arm back as far as you can go comfortably. Hold for a few seconds, then come back together to re-close your book pose. Repeat a few times before switching to the other side.
Supported Fish Pose
Leonetti recommends this pose for stretching the front of the chest. Place a junior yoga bolster lengthwise on your mat. Sitting in front of the bolster, lean back onto the bolster. Make sure that your chin is even with or lower than your forehead, as tilting your head back too far can make the position uncomfortable. You can place a folded blanket in front of your bolster to rest your head on if you wish. With your back rested over the bolster, allow your arms to rest at your sides at a 45-degree angle, with palms facing the sky. Take some deep breaths and relax in the position for as long as you can. This pose is great for desk workers who slump over a keyboard all day.
Anjali Mudra Pose
Also known as the prayer position, Anjali Mudra is a pose that Leonetti recommends for wrist pain. With your palms open, place your hands together at the center of your heart. Hold pose for however long you wish.
Tabletop with Wrist Stretch
For more wrist stretching, place yourself in a tabletop position, with your knees and palms on the floor. Slowly rotate your fingers back towards your knees as far as they will go. Leonetti suggests keeping most of your weight in your legs and slowly leaning some weight into your hands. Hold for a few deep breaths, let your wrists rest, then repeat.
Leonetti notes that plaque psoriasis and some other forms of arthritis are triggered or worsened by stress. She recommends doing some yoga breathing exercises to relieve stress and potentially alleviate some arthritis pain triggered by stress. “Breathing out longer exhales than inhales taps into the parasympathetic nervous system and helps calm the body if performed a few minutes daily,” she says. Try doing three-second inhales with four- to five-second exhales. You can also try nadi shodhana prānāyāma, or alternate nostril breathing. “This helps balance the right and left sides of the brain, thus balancing the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system,” explains Leonetti.
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