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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, Yoga, The Connection Between Yoga and Joint Strength or Pain

The Connection Between Yoga and Joint Strength or Pain

Reading Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2020-09-18

In a perfect world, all your clients would have a basic level of health. Yet, the numbers tell us that this is not likely the case. Especially when it comes to joint pain.

Prevalence of Disease-Related Joint Pain

A number of health conditions can result in increased levels of joint pain. One of the most common is arthritis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that almost one in three adult Americans have some type of arthritis (1). This is 23 percent of the population, or 54 million people in total. Approximately half of these individuals face physical activity limitations. One in four would categorize their pain as severe.

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, afflicting more than 32.5 million adult Americans (2). Also known as degenerative joint disease, this condition typically appears in the hands, hips, and knees. In addition to pain, osteoarthritis also causes stiffness and swelling.

Other forms of arthritis leading to elevated joint pain include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. This pain can impact the client's ability to work. It can also decrease their quality of life.

The CDC adds that joint pain experienced with arthritis often co-occurs with other chronic medical conditions. This includes diabetes and heart disease. Obesity can lead to increased joint pain as well.

Fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and bone cancer can also contribute to higher levels of pain in the joints. This type of pain can have other causes as well.

Other Joint Pain Causes

Sometimes joint pain is a result of injury. For instance, if the client has experienced a sprain of the ligaments in the knee, knee pain is likely. The same is true regarding sprains to the elbows, hips, and other joints in the body.

If a client exercises or trains too much, joint pain can occur then as well. Repeated movement of the joints create pain due to overuse. If the exercise is too intense, they may also experience discomfort in their joints.

When the pain becomes severe, clients may seek the help of a medical doctor or physical therapist. In some cases, treatment may be necessary to reduce the pain. However, regular exercise can provide benefits as well.

How Exercise Helps Ease Joint Pain

Research reveals that regular exercise can often help relieve joint pain.

In 2005, a study published in Rheumatology International reported that eight weeks of exercise helped significantly lower pain for people with ankylosing spondylitis (3). This form of arthritis causes small bones in the spine to fuse together. As a result, the spine becomes less flexible. This study also found that exercise improved joint mobility. Improvements were noted in the spine, as well as in the shoulders, hips, and knees.

Exercise also helps reduce pain caused by arthritis. A 2018 study found that 12 weeks of low-impact aerobic exercise helped participants reduce pain due to knee osteoarthritis (4). This research involved 31 patients who were asked to walk on a treadmill for three months. At the end of the study, their knee pain had "diminished significantly." They also had improvements in muscle strength in their thighs.

Exercise helps by improving joint strength. Both aerobic exercise and resistance training increase the strength of the soft tissues—the muscle and ligaments—surrounding the joint. This helps reduce the pain by providing the joint more support.

Yoga and Joint Strength: The Scientifically Proven Benefits

Some studies have been conducted on yoga specifically. The goal of many was to learn whether this exercise practice helps improve joint strength and pain. The findings have been promising.

For example, one study noted that practicing yoga postures for eight weeks can reduce pain in the hands due to osteoarthritis (5).

A 2013 study looked at yoga's effect on pain in the joints due to rheumatoid arthritis. In this case, participants practiced Iyengar yoga for six weeks (6). Not only did this exercise decrease their pain, but it also improved their anxiety and depression. A two-month follow-up showed that these benefits were still experienced two months later.

Another piece of research was published in 2016 and involved children with cystic fibrosis (7). After six sessions with a yoga teacher, these kids reported lower levels of joint pain. Their anxiety reduced as well.

A 2009 study found that breast cancer survivors going through menopause also had reduced joint pain after engaging in eight weeks of yoga (8). These participants also reported fewer hot flashes and improvements in sleep, mood, and energy. These effects were still reported three months later.

If the pain is due to reduced muscle strength, yoga can help them as well. Regularly practicing yoga postures helps build muscle. That makes this form of exercise beneficial to the joints in a variety of ways.

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, Yoga, The Connection Between Yoga and Joint Strength or Pain

What Are the Best Yoga Postures for Stronger Joints (and Reduced Joint Pain)?

The Arthritis Foundation reports that postures practiced in Iyengar yoga are beneficial for reducing joint pain due to arthritis, fibromyalgia, or some other cause (9). This is because they are gentle and allow practitioners to use props to help them better balance. Some of the poses practiced in Iyengar yoga include:

  • Uttansana pose (Standing Forward Bend) - standing while bending forward until your hands reach the floor

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana pose (Downward Dog) - forming a right angle with your body by bending at the hips while keeping your hands and feet on the floor

  • Trikonasana pose (Triangle Pose) - standing with your feet several feet apart, then bending to your right or left to place one hand on the floor while reaching the other hand toward the ceiling

  • Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) - similar to a lunge, but the pose is held in the lunge position

  • Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose) - placing feet wider than the hips, bending one knee and lowering the body with arms fully extended and palms facing down

If clients find any of these moves difficult, they can be performed next to a wall to provide more stability and assist with balance. Alternatively, the back of a chair can be used as well, such as with the Warrior poses.

Yin yoga may help as well. Yin yoga targets deep connective tissue and involves holding postures for longer periods of time. Deep breathing is critical with Yin yoga and, again, props can aid in balance and stability.

Expand your personal training business with the ISSA's Yoga Instructor certification. You will learn about the practices, postures, and philosophies of yoga. This will help you design safe and effective exercise plans for students of all fitness levels.

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  1. Arthritis. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2021). Retrieved 25 August 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/arthritis.htm.

  2. Osteoarthritis (OA). National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2020). Retrieved 25 August 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm.

  3. Lim, HJ., Moon, YI. & Lee, M.S. Effects of home-based daily exercise therapy on joint mobility, daily activity, pain, and depression in patients with ankylosing spondylitis. Rheumatol Int 25, 225–229 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00296-004-0536-z.

  4. Peeler, J., & Ripat, J. (2018). The effect of low-load exercise on joint pain, function, and activities of daily living in patients with knee osteoarthritis. The Knee25(1), 135-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.knee.2017.12.003.

  5. Garfinkel MS, Schumacher HR Jr, Husain A, Levy M, Reshetar RA. Evaluation of a yoga based regimen for treatment of osteoarthritis of the hands. The Journal of Rheumatology. 1994 Dec;21(12):2341-2343. PMID: 7699639.

  6. Evans, S., Moieni, M., Lung, K., Tsao, J., Sternlieb, B., Taylor, M., & Zeltzer, L. (2013). Impact of iyengar yoga on quality of life in young women with rheumatoid arthritis. The Clinical journal of pain29(11), 988–997. https://doi.org/10.1097/AJP.0b013e31827da381.

  7. McNamara, C., Johnson, M., Read, L., Vander Velden, H., Thygeson, M., & Liu, M. et al. (2016). Yoga Therapy in Children with Cystic Fibrosis Decreases Immediate Anxiety and Joint Pain. Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine2016, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/9429504.

  8. Carson, J.W., Carson, K.M., Porter, L.S. et al. Yoga of Awareness program for menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors: results from a randomized trial. Support Care Cancer 17, 1301–1309 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-009-0587-5.

  9. Top 5 Yoga Myths Debunked. Arthritis.org. Retrieved 25 August 2022, from https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/yoga/top-5-yoga-myths-debunked.

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