Arthritis can make every day challenging. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning to when you lay your head back down on the pillow at night, even the smallest of actions can come with pain. Worse, arthritis may be so painful that you feel like any movement is doing more harm than good. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Incorporating yoga for arthritis into your daily life can help ease the pain and restore your range of motion. Here’s some suggestions for getting started.
Is yoga good for arthritis?
It can be hard to start an exercise program when you are in pain. After all, when even the slightest movement is challenging and hurts, it seems logical to restrict motion and movement altogether. But lack of movement can actually make arthritis worse in some cases and speed up the damage to your joints.
Yoga for arthritis is a great way to bring gentle, supportive movement into your life: movement that builds muscle, improves balance and flexibility, and increases your range of motion, especially in the affected joints.
The key to getting the most out of yoga for arthritis? Safety.
You can improve your chances for success by talking to your doctor first about yoga for arthritis. Once you get the go-ahead from them, finding a qualified yoga teacher who specializes in yoga for arthritis can help, but there is also a wealth of resources available online.
Finding the best type of yoga for arthritis is also key.
What type of yoga is best for arthritis?
In the U.S., the term “yoga” can describe a variety of different styles. In general, yoga incorporates not only movement in the body but also breathwork and some form of meditation. This meditation is not always a separate part of the practice and may be incorporated into a mantra or a specific chant, or it may just be guided during a pose at the beginning or end of practice.
Some of the types of yoga you may have heard about include the following.
Named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, Iyengar yoga focuses on using props to align the body and get the most from each pose.
Iyengar yoga for arthritis is especially good as the many modifications make all postures accessible, regardless of a person’s strength, flexibility, or pain level.
Yin yoga works on releasing connective tissues, including ligaments, tendons, and fascia. This type of yoga also uses props to support the body.
Most postures are completed in a seated position and are held for three to five minutes each. This allows for a slow stretching of tight connective tissues.
Hot yoga is done in a room that is usually heated to at least 100 degrees. Because this type of yoga is very physically demanding, it may be challenging for older patients with arthritis, but some believe that the heat in the room helps to release tight muscles and build endurance.
Note that hot yoga does not rely on props.
Vinyasa yoga (also known as flow) uses the breath to move the body from pose to pose (it’s also a set sequence that occurs within other types of yoga). This is another physically challenging type of yoga that does not use props (due to the constant movement between poses).
Hatha yoga is a blanket term that includes most of the styles above. A complete hatha yoga practice incorporates breathing (pranayama) as well as physical poses.
A good teacher in any of these styles can make all the difference. When you find a class to try, talk to the teacher beforehand and let them know you are working with arthritis. They can suggest modifications and make sure you are being safe in each pose.
If you want to start yoga on your own, there are many excellent poses to try. We focus on chair yoga for arthritis in many of these following poses, or floor postures that are easier to start off with.
Yoga for arthritis in hips: 5 poses
Doing yoga for arthritis in the hips daily can help increase not only your range of motion but can also make walking and sitting more comfortable. Best of all, there is no need to pull out a mat or even set aside time to do these.
Many of these poses can be done while you are going about your daily life (i.e., when you have a long car ride or are watching TV).
1. Seated figure 4 stretch
Sit with both feet on the floor and a tall spine (usually it’s best to be close to the edge of a firm chair). Your ankles should be directly below your knees. Bring your right ankle to rest on your left knee, making a sort of figure 4. Breathe deeply, and with each exhale allow your right knee to relax down towards the ground. You can place a hand on your right knee and apply some pressure, but don’t force anything.
Hold this pose for about three minutes, then release and move to the other side.
2. Seated twist
Still in the same chair, take a deep breath in, and on an exhale begin to twist from the center of your body to the left. Your left hand can come to the chair behind you, and your right hand can come to the outside of your left thigh. Keep your spine tall and both feet flat on the floor. Do not force your neck to turn too far to the left. Focus instead on getting taller on the inhale, and pulling your navel to your spine on the exhale, twisting a little more deeply as you do.
Hold for at least five breaths. Inhale to untwist, then twist to the other side when you are ready.
3. Bound angle
If you are able to get up and down from the floor, the following poses will be good poses for hips, too.
Sit on the floor with a tall spine. You can fold a blanket and place it under your sitting bones to give you more lift if that helps you sit more comfortably. Bring the soles of your feet to touch and allow your knees to fall open. Your feet can be far away from your body, or they can be close (whichever is more comfortable). Take a deep breath in, and on an exhale begin to fold forward.
Especially if you have lower back pain, keep the muscles of your abdomen engaged and your back straight, tucking your chin slightly to keep the back of your neck long. If your back is comfortable, you can round your spine. Hold for at least ten breaths (or up to five minutes), then inhale to come back to seated.
4. Easy pose with forward fold
Try this before you move to the next pose (firelog). Sit on the floor with your legs comfortably crossed in easy pose (sukhasana). If your knees are much higher than your hips, sit on a blanket or a block to raise your hips, and use blocks to support your knees. You may feel an intense stretch in this posture, but if you would like to go deeper, begin to fold forward (the same way you folded forward in bound angle).
Hold for at least ten breaths (or up to five minutes), then inhale to come back to seated. Switch the cross of your legs and repeat.
This is an intense variation of easy pose. Instead of crossing your legs, start with your left shin parallel to the top of the mat, then place your right shin on top (right ankle will be on top of your left knee). If there is a gap between your right knee (on top) and your left ankle, place a block or blanket there for support.
You can stay upright if the stretch is intense or fold forward for more. Again, hold for ten breaths (or up to five minutes), then inhale to rise up. Switch the cross of your legs and repeat on the other side.
Yoga for arthritis in hands: 2 poses
Yoga for arthritis in the hands can ease pain and help you perform all of your daily tasks.
When it comes to yoga for arthritis, these two poses can help loosen joints in the fingers and wrists.
6. Wrist circles
Extend your arms out in front of you, then slowly circle your wrists, ten times in one direction and then the other. Breathe, and move slowly, feeling your entire range of motion.
7. Finger curls
Extend your hand again, then slowly curl and uncurl your fingers into fists, one finger at a time. Repeat ten times.
Want more? One of our favorite yogis, Adriene, has a great 11-minute sequence for fingers, hands, and wrists.
Yoga for knee arthritis: 2 poses
Yoga for knee arthritis often focuses on building the muscles around the knee to provide better support and take the pressure off your knee.
These postures can be more active, but here we present them modified for any fitness level using a chair.
8. Lunge with chair
Lunges stretch your hip flexors, strengthen your quadriceps, and stretch your hamstrings. Start seated in a chair, then begin to open your left knee as you turn to the right, moving slowly into a lunge. Your right hamstring will stay on the chair, and your left leg will eventually move behind you.
Let your left knee bend deeply until you gain more flexibility in your left side. Your right knee should be directly above your right ankle. You can experiment and strengthen your right quadricep by pressing into the right foot and out through the left heel as you inhale to lift your right leg slightly off the chair, then release on the exhale. Use the chair for balance.
Stay here for five breaths, then switch sides.
9. Supported chair pose
Start off in a chair if you need a gentler option. If your balance is good, you can move next to a wall for support.
If you start in the chair, sit on the very edge with your feet hips’ width distance apart and firmly on the ground. Lift all ten toes off the floor, then inhale and lift your arms overhead, palms facing each other. Engage your belly, hinge forward slightly from the hips, and feel your sitting bones on the chair. Relax your shoulders. Take ten full breaths, then relax on an exhale.
If you are standing, inhale arms above your head, then exhale and sink your hips back like you are sitting back into a chair. Keep your belly engaged. Look down and make sure you can see your toes; if not, move your hips back slightly. Take five breaths, inhale to stand. On an exhale, sink back into the pose for five more breaths.
Yoga for arthritis videos
Videos can help you practice safely as you begin, especially if you are just starting out with chair yoga for arthritis. Here are three of our favorites.
Modifications for favorite poses
This video starts with modifications to help get up and down from the floor and continues with modifications to protect the wrists and knees.
Chair yoga for arthritis
This quick, four-minute sequence done totally in a chair is a great place to start a yoga for arthritis practice.
Yoga poses to avoid with arthritis
As a general rule, go slowly when starting out with yoga for arthritis. Ease into your practice every day, and listen to your body.
Poses that place 100% of your body’s weight onto a painful joint may be harmful, so use props to modify and accommodate where you begin each day. Some extreme poses, like frog pose, may be too uncomfortable to even try, so pay attention to how it feels in your body. The support of a qualified teacher, especially if you are just beginning yoga, can make all of the difference.
Remember that yoga is not just about the physical poses. Yoga for arthritis includes practicing self-love and understanding how to recognize what your body needs, whether that is rest or movement.
At Pain Doctor, we believe that pain management plans should be individualized with comprehensive, holistic treatment options – including yoga for arthritis. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.