Yoga Therapy for Osteoarthritis
How can yoga therapy help folks with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee, or who have had hip and knee replacements? In this blog, I am going to focus specifically on osteoarthritis of the knee. I have worked with several clients now with different degrees of osteoarthritis in one or both knees from mild to pretty severe (doctor recommends knee replacement). I have also worked with clients who have had hip replacements - but that's a post for another day. Osteoarthritis is common, mostly in older adults, when cartilage cushioning the joints wears away, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Risk factors include age, previous injury, family history and carrying excess weight on the joints. (It is important to note here that there are over 100 different types of arthritis and related illnesses - I am specifically addressing osteoarthritis in this blog). Did you know that arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States? Some things that can help prevent osteoarthritis include: staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding injury and repetitive movements. So how can yoga therapy help this condition? First of all, if you are experiencing knee pain, and/or limited range of motion, it's important to get a doctor to diagnose the cause.* Working with a client, during intake, I would review any information/restrictions they may have already from their doctor. I also do my own assessment that includes observing posture and movement and measuring range of motion of the affected joint(s) and those around them that might be compensating for the knee. Together, my client and I may do a body awareness and breath awareness exercise and then go through some asana or somatic movement that can help to relieve the area or strengthen the muscles that move the knee or affected joint. If a doctor has recommended knee replacement - these initial exercises can help prepare you for the operation. Afterwards (once a physical therapist has given the "all clear" for you to exercise, and taking into account any restrictions given), yoga therapy can continue to help strengthen the muscles around the joint and improve your range of motion. Yoga therapy can help reduce pain and improve confidence, which is also an important factor in preventing falls. One of my clients, who has NOT had surgery yet, has been doing his yoga on a daily basis and has reported that he "was always tensing and anxious about bending the bad knee before, but now that tensing up is gone because he exercises every day, and he says his knee is feeling the best it has in a long time - All with no medication." Simply improving a client's confidence in being able to take a weight bearing step on the stairs can help improve their balance and keep them from tensing or causing some other part of their body to compensate for the knee. Yoga cannot repair the damage done to the joint by arthritis and it is NOT a substitute for surgery or for medication, but it can help the client with the right mindset who is willing to do the practice suggested to them. For my client, he will most likely eventually have knee surgery, but he is at least able to prepare his body for the surgery so he can recover more quickly. After surgery, we will revisit his practice and make any adjustments needed to help him regain strength and range of motion. This is one way yoga therapy can help someone to improve their health. *It's important to note that yoga therapists do not "diagnose" or "treat" any condition. Instead, the yoga therapist helps create a path towards wholeness and healing that is specific to the individual client, and the client fully participates in their own journey toward wellness.