Over 20 million people worldwide suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune disease which involves inflammation of joints, tissues, and other organs. Some describe it as the immune system “attacking” healthy bodily tissues, causing pain and problems with movement to such a severe level that it can impede a normal lifestyle and even cause disability.
Scarily, the incidence of this disease (which strikes far more women than men) is on the rise, and scientists aren’t sure why. Environmental or hormonal factors may be at fault, but lifestyle choices like smoking, poor diet, and body mass index are suspected to also play a role. Nothing has really been proven with concrete evidence, but there has been one study that at least offers hope for relief for those afflicted with the disease. Researchers at John Hopkins University recently discovered that engaging in a yoga program (one that involves both poses and breathing/relaxation techniques) reduces joint tenderness and swelling in RA patients.
For years, the American Yoga Association has advocated yoga for people with all forms of arthritis, claiming that the practice not only eases pain and stiffness, but also enhances range of motion and muscle strength. But there are specfic reasons that yoga is a great type of exercise for those suffering from RA in particular:
- Yoga strengthens joints. Since the joints are the most affected part of the body with RA, the stronger your joints are, the better. By gently manipulating your limbs to stretch and strengthen both joints and connective tissues, yoga can reduce arthritis-related stiffness.
- Yoga is thought to regulate levels of uric acid in the body. Too much uric acid is what causes gout, another form of arthritis, and high levels of this substance can make it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis of RA. By practicing yoga, you can keep uric acid from complicating the problem.
- Yoga promotes a generally healthy lifestyle. While obesity hasn’t been proven to cause RA, it is suspected to be a contributing factor. And as mentioned before, smoking and poor diet may play a role, as well. Practicing yoga inspires people to respect their bodies and behave in a healthier manner, which can prevent RA risk factors from ever presenting themselves. And regardless of what causes RA, having a healthy immune system helps your body fight off infection and disease of all types.
- Yoga curbs a deadly “side effect” of RA. According to an article in Health News, Swedish researchers released a study suggesting that having RA increases your risk of heart attack, even if no other risk factors are present. Following both RA and non-RA subjects, the study found that the RA sufferers had nearly double the number of heart attacks and heart attack-related deaths. “The fact that there is no increased risk prior to RA diagnosis suggests that there is something in the RA disease itself, such as inflammatory processes, that lead to this increased risk,” study leader Marie Gunnarsson said in a statement quoted in the article, which goes on to say that “measures to reduce inflammation, which has long been linked with heart disease and heart attack risks, may help reduce the heart risks in this population as well.” Certain asanas like inversion poses and back bends are known for reducing inflammation, and yoga also helps reduce other heart attack risk factors like stress, lack of cardiovascular health, and general physical fitness.
If you want to find out more about specific poses that can help with RA, visit the following websites:
http://www.abc-of-yoga.com/yoga-and-health/yoga-for-arthritis.asp: While this article is mostly geared towards arthritis in general, it does have a list of beneficial poses that may be of interest to those with RA.
http://www.hopkins-arthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/yoga.html: An entire site dedicated to yoga for arthritis, from John Hopkins, the university that conducted the study on RA and yoga. Comprehensive and very informative!