Yoga also helps keep you flexible, helps you move more easily, and lowers stress. It may even help you sleep better. And a good night’s rest makes it easier to manage pain or other symptoms throughout the day.
What Does the Science Say?
Several studies have looked at what happens when people with RA do yoga for a period of weeks. Here’s what a few of them found.
A 2012 review of eight earlier studies showed that yoga has many benefits for people with RA. While most studies were small and short, they suggested yoga could ease pain. People with RA who did yoga also were able to move better and felt better.
A 2013 study of 26 women with RA who did yoga twice a week for 6 weeks showed less disability related to pain. While women in the study said they still felt pain, they could accept and manage it better. They also had more energy.
A 2015 study of 75 adults who had been inactive showed that 8 weeks of yoga helped with RA symptoms. The yoga practice included two 1-hour classes and one at-home session each week. Among many improvements, people had less pain after doing yoga. The study also found no downside to doing yoga.
A 2018 review of 15 studies on yoga and tai chi for people with RA or another rheumatoid condition showed uncertain benefits of tai chi. But yoga seemed to help with pain and inflammation. It also improved quality of life.
A 2020 study of more than 160 adults just diagnosed with RA also showed benefits of yoga. People who did 12 weeks of yoga showed less disease activity and inflammation compared to people who only got standard medical treatment. The findings suggest yoga not only helps people with RA feel better, but it may also help to control the disease.
Try These Poses
A yoga class often lasts for 45 minutes to an hour. But you may get benefits from doing a few poses on your own for a few minutes several times a week. Here are some poses experts recommend for people with arthritis pain.
If any of the poses are too difficult for you to start, it’s easy to modify them. Consider using a mat, pillow, or folded blanket to cushion a knee. Instead of standing, try the pose while seated in a chair or leaning against a wall. If it hurts to raise your arms over your head, try the pose with arms at your sides instead.
Cat cow pose. Start on hands and knees. Round your back toward the ceiling while dropping your head and tucking your rear end. Come back to the middle, then arch your back and lift your head.
Chair pose. Stand with feet apart. Raise your arms and take a deep breath. Next, lower your arms halfway and squat as if you were going to sit in a chair.
Forward fold. Stand with knees bent slightly. Bend forward and let your arms hang.
Standing side bend. Raise your left hand overhead and bend to the right. Come back to the middle and do the other side.
Side angle pose. Stand with feet about 4 feet apart. Turn your right foot out to a 90-degree angle and the other to about 45 degrees. Bend your right knee and bring your elbow to rest on it while your other arm extends over your head. Come back to the middle and repeat on the other side.
Cobra. Lie face down with your palms on the floor by your chest. Lift your head, neck, and back using your upper back muscles.
Extended leg balance. Stand up straight and put your weight on one foot. Carefully raise the other leg. Put your hand on the knee of your raised leg and bring out to the side. Repeat with the other leg.
Seated spinal twist. Sit with your legs outstretched in front of you. Cross one leg over the other. Grab the knee of your crossed leg with the opposite hand and twist while keeping your spine straight and tall.
When you try a new activity, pay attention to your body and how you feel. Stop and rest or adjust if you feel any unexpected pain, discomfort, or loss of balance.
It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor for advice. They might also help you find a good yoga class or video to try.
Photo Credit: valentinrussanov / Getty Images
Harvard Health Publishing: “Yoga for pain relief.”
Arthritis Foundation: “Yoga Benefits for Arthritis,” “Arthritis-Friendly Yoga Poses.”
Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine: “Is yoga a suitable treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: current opinion.”
The Clinical Journal of Pain: “Impact of Iyengar Yoga on Quality Of Life In Young Women With Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
The Journal of Rheumatology: “Yoga in Sedentary Adults with Arthritis: Effects of a Randomized Controlled Pragmatic Trial.”
Rheumatology International: “The Efficacy of Tai Chi and Yoga in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Spondyloarthropathies: A Narrative Biomedical Review.”
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Effect of Yoga Therapy on Disease Activity, Inflammatory Markers, and Heart Rate Variability in Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: “Yoga Poses for Arthritis Patients from Johns Hopkins.”