In the United States alone, over 30 million people have osteoarthritis. By age 65 about half of Americans will be diagnosed with some form of arthritis, and half of those who reach 85 years old will suffer from knee osteoarthritis.
These numbers are going up. In fact, the numbers above are looking back four years, so prevalence is even higher today. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that by 2040, 78 million adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with some form of arthritis. That’s compared to 52 million people in 2012.
Why are rates of arthritis going up? That’s a complicated question – one that I respond to in my book about the subject.
Certainly, one of the reasons for the increase in osteoarthritis is the expansion of our sedentary society. More and more people are plopping down in their easy chairs or sofas for hours on end. It used to be just to watch television, but today, computers and tablets are adding to sofa sojourns.
In addition, today more and more of us sit at our computers at work. So we’re sitting on the job and sitting at home – getting less and less physical activity.
This – along with other factors including diet – leads to the premature aging of the chondrocyte cells in the joints, and a loss of lubricin levels. The loss of lubricin along with synovial fluid loss, result in less joint lubrication. These increase the risk of wear-and-tear injuries: Causing pain in osteoarthritis as our bodies get older.
Hatha Yoga reduces knee osteoarthritis pain
This brings us to a great form of joint exercise and stress-release: Hatha Yoga. I include the word “Hatha” here because there are multiple forms of Yoga.
More specifically, Hatha Yoga relates to a series of postures combined with breathing exercises that offer a combination of flexibility and tranquility – assuming a peaceful setting and mind-set.
Certainly, Hatha Yoga is a form of exercise. As such, it increases physical activity, reducing the risk of early osteoarthritis. But Hatha Yoga has the unique distinction of applying weight-bearing loads onto our joints – especially the knees.
But can Hatha Yoga help reduce pain from osteoarthritis? You betcha.
This is the conclusion of a 2016 meta-analysis that utilized the Cochrane Library and Cochrane parameters for research bias and quality.
The researchers found 71 articles on yoga and knee osteoarthritis, and narrowed these down to six quality studies that included randomized controls and limited bias.
These six studies involved a total of 372 people with knee osteoarthritis. They were aged between 51 and 71 years old. Most of the subjects were split into two groups. The yoga groups did from 8 to 20 weeks of yoga with their conventional treatments, while the control groups did the conventional treatment. Many of the control groups did stretching exercises to determine whether it was about the stretching exercises.
The yoga groups in practically every study did yoga for 60 to 90 minutes 3-4 times per week. These included the yoga asanas plus breathing exercises (pranayama). Some also included meditation.
The various studies measured pain and improvement using the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) and/or using the Visual Analog Scale (VAS) to measure pain intensity.
The researchers found that the yoga groups had considerable less pain and more mobility than the conventional groups at the end of their treatment periods.
In one of the larger studies, walking pain, knees disability, knee flexion, joint tenderness and swelling levels all improved significantly among the yoga group.
Four of the studies also measured quality of life among the patients. Two used the Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Scale (KOOS) to assess results.
All found that the yoga groups had significantly higher quality of life scores and higher KOOS scores compared to the control groups.
The researchers also reported that there were no reports of adverse events as a result of the yoga treatments.
Laidi Kan, Jiaqi Zhang, Yonghong Yang, and Pu Wang, “The Effects of Yoga on Pain, mobility, and Quality of Life in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2016, Article ID 6016532, 10 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/6016532
Ebnezar J, Nagarathna R, Yogitha B, Nagendra HR. Effects of an integrated approach of hatha yoga therapy on functional disability, pain, and flexibility in osteoarthritis of the knee joint: a randomized controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 May;18(5):463-72. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0320.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.