More than 54 million American adults suffer from arthritis, with some cases worse than others. For those who suffer from joint pain caused by arthritis, exercise can sometimes seem difficult or even counterintuitive. The twisting and turning that comes with yoga may seem to make arthritis joint pain worse, not help it. But that couldn’t be more wrong. According to CDC, when people with arthritis participate in joint-friendly physical activity, they can improve their arthritis pain, function, mood, and quality of life.
Joint-friendly physical activities are low-impact, meaning they put less strain on the body, reducing the risk of injury. These can include low-impact aerobic activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming or muscle-strengthening exercises such as lifting weights, working out with resistance bands, and doing yoga.
Often, incorporating yoga into your routine can reduce inflammation, which is linked to joint pain caused by arthritis. Yoga is also excellent for helping to build strength and improve balance, and can be gentle enough to include and enjoy regularly in an exercise routine. There are many types of yoga, as well as many gentle poses and flowing sequences that you can try for joint pain relief. You can also include props, like a chair or yoga block, to help. Of course, talk to your doctor specifically about your joint pain before doing any yoga or exercises. Once you’ve gotten the green light, here are our favorite yoga poses for joint pain.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can sometimes cause stiffness in the lower back. Child’s pose is a gentle way to stretch your lower back and alleviate some of that stiffness. Place your knees on a yoga mat and keep the tops of your feet on the floor. Kneel with your chest on your legs and bring your hips back to your heels or feet. Reach your arms out in front of you on the floor and really feel those muscles stretch as you lie down in the pose.
The sphinx pose is also great for the lower back. “This pose will help you find extension through your lower back muscles,” explains Samantha Leonetti, a yoga practitioner in Philadelphia who is studying to become a physical therapist. Lie on your stomach with your legs positioned side by side behind you. Gently place your elbows under your shoulders, forearms on the floor. Inhale and lift your torso and head away from the floor. This will create a slight curvature in your back, which is what you are looking for.
From Sphinx Pose, you can extend into Cobra Pose for even more lower back stretching. In Sphinx Pose, press your hands together, placing your palms on the floor in front of your shoulders. Your arms will now be straight and your back is in a deeper bend for an extra stretch.
Open book stretch
The open book stretch is useful for stretching the shoulder and chest muscles. Lie on your side and keep your knees together, bent at a 90 degree angle. Keep your hands together, arms stretched out in front of you. This is the “closed book” part of the section. While keeping your knees together, start spreading your hands apart while rotating your upper arm as far as you can comfortably reach. Hold for a few seconds, then come back together to close your book pose. Repeat several times before switching to the other side.
Supported fish pose
Leonetti recommends this pose to stretch the front of the chest. Place a junior yoga bolster lengthwise on your mat. Sitting in front of the bolster, lean back on the bolster. Make sure your chin is at the same level or lower than your forehead, as tilting your head back too much can make the position awkward. You can place a folded blanket in front of your bolster to rest your head on if you wish. With your back resting on the bolster, let your arms rest at your sides at a 45 degree angle, palms facing up. Take a deep breath and relax in the position for as long as you can. This pose is great for office workers who slump over a keyboard all day.
Anjali Mudra Pose
Also known as the prayer position, Anjali Mudra is a pose that Leonetti recommends for wrist pain. With your palms open, place your hands together in the center of your heart. Hold the pose for as long as you want.
Table top with wrist stretch
For more of a wrist stretch, get into a tabletop position with your knees and palms on the floor. Slowly rotate your fingers towards your knees as far as possible. Leonetti suggests keeping most of your weight in your legs and slowly leaning some weight into your hands. Hold for a few deep breaths, let your wrists rest, then repeat.
Leonetti notes that plaque psoriasis and some other forms of arthritis are triggered or worsened by stress. She recommends doing yoga breathing exercises for stress relief and potentially relieving some stress-triggered arthritis pain. “Exhaling longer exhales than inhales taps into the parasympathetic nervous system and helps calm the body if done for a few minutes a day,” she says. Try doing three second inhales with four to five second exhales. You can also try nadi shodhana prānāyāma, or alternate breathing through the nostrils. “It helps balance the right and left sides of the brain, thereby balancing the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system,” says Leonetti.