Yoga for Bone and Joint Health

The following is a guest blog by fellow yogi and blogger Carolyn Fallon.  Check out Carolyn’s blog at http://fullonfit.blogspot.com

Yoga for Bone and Joint Health

Yoga, as it is usually practiced in the United States, utilizes poses or asanas that improve strength, balance and flexibility. There are many different types of yoga that offer essentially the same physical poses, but each has a different emphasis. Hatha style is gentle and is a good introduction to basic yoga asanas. For someone who has arthritis or low bone density, this would be a good place to start.

Millions of Americans, mostly women, have osteopenia. Osteopenia means low bone density, and it often progresses to osteoporosis or porous bones. According to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Osteoarthritis, or wear-and-tear arthritis, often results in symptoms such as stiffness, pain, and/or a sensation that the knee has “locked” during walking or other activity. Some studies have shown that yoga, paired with a diet high in vegetables and alkaline foods, can slow the condition and possibly even reverse it. Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise that uses the body to resist gravity. It
causes the bone to lay down new growth without damaging joints or cartilage. In addition, yoga improves balance and coordination and, therefore, lowers the risk of falls that lead to fractures.

While yoga is bone-saving exercise, it can be harmful to someone with osteopenia or osteoporosis if it is not practiced correctly. Anyone with low bone density should check with her doctor before starting a yoga program and then be sure to find a qualified instructor who is experienced in working with people with osteopenia. Extreme twists and forward bends should be avoided, and other poses can be modified.

Arthritis, both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), also responds well to yoga. As of now, only a few medical studies have been done, but more are being conducted. So far, the studies show that yoga, in conjunction with adequate medical treatment, improves the quality of life for arthritis patients. Scientists at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center are very interested in conducting clinical research trials.

Before beginning yoga, the arthritis patient needs to check with his or her doctor to see if there are any restrictions of movement that need to be observed. The yoga instructor must be qualified to work with arthritic patients and know how to modify standard asanas.

The pain of arthritis causes those who have the disease to become inactive, and the inactivity causes even more damage and pain in the joint. Lack of movement prevents the inner lining of the joint from producing the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. Gentle yoga keeps the fluid moving through the joints, but it needs to be started very carefully, never going beyond what is comfortable. An experienced teacher will know which poses are appropriate and will encourage the student to listen to his body and make modifications as needed.

Research and clinical trials will shed more light on the benefits of yoga on bone and joint health. Until then, there is evidence that the practice of yoga will improve the quality of life for those affected with low bone density and arthritis. Yoga is gaining increased attention from traditional medicine, and, in many cases, is becoming an integral part of the treatment plan.

Carolyn Fallon is a 20-something year old with a passion for life, fitness and overall well being. She is an avid cycler, golfer and has known to bust some serious moves on the dance floor. Check out Carolyn’s blog at fullonfit.blogspot.com!