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Yoga helps improve arthritis symptoms and mood, study finds

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A randomised trial has shown that yoga can be safe and effective for people with arthritis.

Researchers in Canada and the United States found that people with arthritis who started practising yoga had about a 20% improvement in their physical health, and similar improvements in pain, energy, mood and carrying out day-to-day activities and tasks.

In a paper published in the Journal of Rheumatology, they concluded that yoga may help sedentary individuals with arthritis safely increase physical activity, and improve physical and psychological health and health-related quality of life.

For the study, 75 sedentary adults with rheumatoid arthritis or knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to a waiting list or to eight weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes, plus a weekly practice session at home. Poses were modified to accommodate individual abilities, and participants continued to take their regular arthritis medication during the study.

Compared with the control group, those doing yoga reported a 20% improvement in pain, energy levels, mood and physical function, including their ability to complete physical tasks at work and home. Walking speed also improved, although there was little difference between the groups in tests of balance, grip strength and flexibility.

Improvements among participants in the yoga group were still apparent nine months later.

“Yoga may be especially well suited to people with arthritis because it combines physical activity with potent stress management and relaxation techniques, and focuses on respecting limitations that can change from day to day,” commented Dr. Susan Bartlett, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and associate professor at McGill University.

However, the researchers also stressed the importance of patients talking to their doctors about which specific joints are of concern, and about modifications to poses.

As part of the study, they developed a checklist to make it easier for doctors to safely recommend yoga to their patients.

Welcoming the findings of the study, a spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK said: “We´ve found that a combination of exercises work best for people with arthritis, so as well as strengthening and fitness exercise, stretching exercises, also known as flexibility or range of movement exercises, will stretch the ligaments and tendons and keep the joints moving. Swimming, hydrotherapy, walking and cycling are also good ways for people with arthritis to keep fit.

“Yoga obviously is great for stretching the joints and muscles, but we´d always suggest that people with arthritis check first with their GP before embarking on a course of yoga, as it might not be suitable or appropriate for everyone.”