BY: TRISHA CURLING
When I was younger, I remember hearing my grandmother talk about some of the pain she experienced due to her arthritis. I never quite understood what that meant. From a childish perspective, I thought that it was just something that you get when you are “old” and that it’s painful, but that you just deal with it because you are “old”. I didn’t understand that it was something that you can acquire due to wear and tear on the joints, (commonly known as Osteoarthritis or OA). OA can occur due to genetics, poor alignment, overuse due to sports and/or injuries. I also didn’t know that there were different types, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune inflammatory disease. This can be more debilitating due to the possibility of symptoms like swelling in the joint or even worse, deformity. Quite simply put, arthritis is “the painful rubbing of bone on bone that occurs when cartilage wears down…” (Timothy McCall, M.D.)
When I got older, I was still under the impression that however one came to acquire arthritis that it was something you would just have to deal with. I wish I had known when I was younger, that there might have been something I could have told my grandmother to do to help with the pain. I didn’t know that yoga could have been one of those things.
The list of benefits for practicing yoga is quite extensive. The positive effect it can have on people with arthritis is included on that list. Keep in mind, this never takes away from medical advice from your doctor. It just means that there can be an open dialogue between you and your doctor to find out what is safe for you in your individual experience. Suffering from Chondromalacia Patellae myself, (not arthritis, but a shifting of my kneecap causing wear and softening of the cartilage and pain due to misalignment); I have an understanding of the importance of the ability to strengthen the appropriate muscles in order to take the stress away from the joint. Yoga has helped tremendously to bring that awareness. It doesn’t always mean that you can do yoga and the pain magically goes away, but it may help with learning how to cope with the pain in a more constructive way. In addition to that, “an experienced yoga teacher can help deal with misalignments, first by being knowledgeable and observant enough to identify them, and then by being skillful enough to help the student readjust so that there is less stress on the joints”. (Timothy McCall, M.D.)
So why yoga? Working with a good yoga teacher can help you to learn how to properly engage muscles that will help you to maintain better alignment. Due to the fact that compression in the areas of the joints can be a factor that contributes to pain, we also learn how to create “space” in the joint so that bones and their surfaces may glide more freely and comfortably.
Movement is an important factor in maintaining health in the joints. It may seem like it’s not a good idea when we are experiencing pain when we are moving, but when we are inactive, we weaken and tighten our muscles, which we now know are an important factor in taking the stress away from those areas of pain. Moving gently and mindfully is key. Movement distributes synovial fluid (necessary for healthy joints). It also helps to bring nutrients into cartilage. These things can help to minimize wear and tear. Yoga just might be the answer when it comes to asking the question about how to deal with arthritis.