Rheumatoid Arthritis Exercises and Yoga Poses to Alleviate Joint Pain

By: Bel Marra Health | Bone Health | Friday, June 01, 2018 - 10:53 AM

yogaRheumatoid arthritis exercises are a standard suggestion for those suffering from RA and more people are turning specifically to rheumatoid arthritis yoga to help deal with pain and increase joint function.

People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis have a tendency to be sedentary, but this can actually make their discomfort worse. Research has suggested that exercises for rheumatoid arthritis can significantly improve patient outcomes. Yoga is one form of recommended exercise.

Yoga is a physical, spiritual, and mental discipline that was developed over 5,000 years ago in India and has grown in popularity around the world. In recent years, research and specifically anecdotal evidence have demonstrated that the stretching, strengthening, and relaxing effects of yoga make it a good option for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

One study, published a few years ago in Current Rheumatology Reports indicated that yoga decreases levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. Depression is common in those who suffer from chronic pain disorders like RA and yoga has long been touted as a good exercise for anxiety and depression.

Yoga and arthritis are said to be a good mix because the movements and breathing exercises that make up this ancient discipline can strengthen muscles, increase joint function, and improve energy levels. Doctor Loren Fishman is the author of many books about health and yoga. She has been quoted as saying ”Yoga also promotes the circulation of fluids inside joints, facilitates ease of motion, and it even helps you sleep better.”

How Do Exercise and Yoga Alleviate Joint Pain?

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause poor mobility, pain, depression, and lack of energy. Exercises for rheumatoid arthritis are recommended to address these symptoms and help patient’s gain a better quality of life.

There is a large body of evidence that suggests yoga is beneficial for our general health. While there have only been a small number of controlled trials looking at yoga for RA, some recent (non-randomized) studies on yoga for rheumatoid arthritis reported improvements in mobility, strength, pain control, mood, and overall quality of life.

Whether you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or not, moderate, regular exercise is known to keep joints and muscles in motion and promote muscle strength. Muscle strength is important for those with RA because the disease tends to affect movement and cause painful stiffness. Careful physical activity can improve flexibility in those who suffer from RA, which can allow them to carry out simple day-to-day tasks.

Here is a summary of exercise benefits for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Fights fatigue
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves energy levels
  • Improves range of motion
  • Improves flexibility
  • Increases bone and muscle strength
  • Can prevent heart disease
  • Helps boost the immune system
  • Improves mental well-being

Yoga and Tai Chi are considered safe forms of exercise. Tai Chi is a slow-moving, gentle form of exercise that originated in ancient China. Not long ago, the American College of Rheumatology issued recommendations for Tai Chi to treat knee osteoarthritis.

Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

There are a number of different rheumatoid arthritis exercises. Some people who are in the early stages of RA are able to continue with their usual fitness routine and even play sports. They just have to modify their approach to protect their joints from any further damage.

The following are common exercises suggested for rheumatoid arthritis:

Walking: This helps increase mobility in the muscles and joints. It also improves cardiovascular health. Research shows that 30 minutes of walking each day is best.

Cycling: Riding a bicycle is good cardiovascular exercise. Biking on flat roads is low-impact and easy on the joints. Leg muscle strength and stiffness can be improved with cycling.

Swimming: This is a really good way to improve joint function. There are studies that show how exercise in water is one of the most effective forms of physical activity for rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Many suffering from RA who have tried it report improvement in joint pain and stiffness.

Movement: This includes yoga and Tai Chi. They seem to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, reduce joint stiffness, and improve mood. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University have discovered good results with yoga. During their research, they found that RA patients had fewer tender and swollen joints than they did before doing yoga.

Strength building: Working with a physical therapist, RA sufferers build muscle strength with the use of free weights, resistance bands, and weight machines. Stronger muscles make daily tasks easier for those who have RA.

Stretches: Incorporating stretching into their daily routine can be necessary for RA patients who want to improve flexibility as well as range of motion. It can be particularly helpful for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who experience morning stiffness. Leg and hamstring stretches, finger and wrist stretches, and neck and shoulder stretches can be helpful.

Other stretches: Some healthcare experts suggest stretching should include various parts of the body, despite where the arthritis is located. For example, stretching the muscles in the arms, back, hips, and front and back of the thighs can be good for overall health. Gentle finger curling, mild wrist bending, and thumb stretching are also suggested.

Tips to Consider While Exercising for RA

If you’re considering rheumatoid arthritis exercise, there are some basic tips that you will want to follow in order to have an optimal experience.

Time: Any form of exercise, including stretching, should be performed on a daily basis. While 30 minutes of activity is the recommended goal, even if you only do 10 minutes, you will reap the benefits. Endurance workouts should actually start at 10 minutes and then you can work your way up to 30 minutes over time. The most important part of exercise for RA is consistency.

Pace: Every person is different, which means you have to exercise at a pace that is comfortable for you. Remember that while you may exercise, walk, or do stretching exercises every day, if you have a flare-up, exercising may become difficult for you for a few days. It’s okay to take a short break and see your doctor. You can ask about simpler exercise options to reduce discomfort during flare-ups.

The small things: While this may seem insignificant, it can be very important for people with RA to warm up before taking part in endurance and strength training. The rule is to spend about 10 minutes warming up with gentle stretching. You should work slowly during warm-ups. Cool down is also important at the end of your exercises. A slow walk until your heart rate and breathing have returned to normal range is a good cool down. Consider all facets of exercise – endurance, strength training, range of motion exercises, and stretching – since they are all important for those suffering from RA.

Accessorize: Many people forget this part, but it’s important to select clothing and equipment that will make you feel comfortable and stable so that you can enjoy the experience of exercising. Proper shoes will help you with balance and prevent falls. A slip-resistant yoga mat is more stable and will also prevent mishaps. Some RA patients say they listen to their favorite music while exercising because it can be motivational.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Yoga Poses

Rheumatoid arthritis yoga is supported by several health organizations, including the Arthritis Foundation. While we can’t say how many RA sufferers are currently using this form of exercise, the foundation contends that yoga can help many people battling arthritis feel better.

The list below provides some sample yoga poses for rheumatoid arthritis:

Child Pose: This is a good warm-up pose that gives the whole body a good stretch. You get down on your knees and sit back on your heels. You then part your thighs and move your knees apart slightly, bending forward with your arms out in front of you until your chest touches the ground. The next step is to reach forward with your arms and at the same time push back with your butt.

Knee to Chest Pose: Known to help relieve knee pain, with this yoga pose, you lie down on your back and bring your knees to your chest, hugging your arms around your knees. You then rock side-to-side.

Bridge Pose: This helps strengthen finger joints, wrists, and shoulders. It also opens the chest and hips. You lie on your back and bend your knees and elbows. Put your feet flat on the floor and plant your hands firmly by each side of your head and pressing your hands and feet into the ground, lift your body up into the air. You should balance on your hands and knees for 20–30 seconds.

Pigeon Pose: This is a good hip opener, but works well on all joint areas and can help strengthen the groin area. You get down on your hands and knees with knees directly under your hips. Slide your right knee forward near your right hand and your left leg backward straightening the knee. You can then
lower your groin close to the ground. Keeping your hands on the ground, raise your arms overhead and stretch back.

Kapal Bhati Pranayam: This is an intermediate to advanced yoga exercise recommended for most chronic diseases. For this exercise, you sit in Sukhanasa (crossed legged position) with your hands on your knees and your index fingers meeting your thumbs. You then take a deep breath and release all the air out of your body. Repeat this deep breathing exercise up to five minutes.

Cat Pose: You start this pose on your hands and knees. Starting at the tip of your spine, arch your back towards the ceiling until your head drops below your shoulders. You then concave your torso during a single exhalation. Repeat for a few breathing cycles.

Forward Fold: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and slowly roll down the spine and hang forward so that your upper body hangs without tension, including your head. Hold elbows or interlace fingers behind your back. Wait a few seconds and stand up straight and repeat.

Cobra Pose: You lay face down with the tops of your feet resting on the floor. Place your palms flat on the floor alongside your chest, with elbows close to your body. Your head, neck, and chest are lifted off the floor so you can gaze forward but remember to keep the feet and legs down. If you like, you can make it more challenging by interlacing your fingers behind your back to draw your shoulder blades together.

Whether it’s yoga, walking, cycling, or some other form of gentle exercise, if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or any chronic condition, it’s always best to consult with your doctor before engaging in any new exercise routine. While in most cases these exercises are perfectly safe, there may be specific underlying reasons a healthcare professional would want you to avoid certain activities.


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Related Reading:

Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid

Avoid these foods if you have joint pain

Sources:

https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/articles/best-exercises-for-ra-8.php
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22867933
https://www.rheumatoidarthritis.org/living-with-ra/exercise/

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