Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis? (My 4 Steps Experiment)

Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis? (My 4 Steps Experiment)

Exercising can be a great remedy for joint pain – that’s what the theory says. But how can you exercise with arthritis, when you’re constantly in pain? I tried it, and it’s pretty impossible, believe me.

However, there’s an easier way to exercise – yoga. It requires minimal effort and minor movement, compared to other methods.

So can yoga help osteoarthritis? A lot of articles say it does – but I doubt it. 

For this reason, I did an experiment myself, just to see if yoga can improve OA in any way. The result? You don’t want to miss the following lines. 



How I Did This Experiment

The reason why I wanted to test yoga out was because of several articles I read. They all claimed that yoga can make a big change in your condition, which I kind of doubted.

Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis? (My 4 Steps Experiment)A few things about my condition – I had osteoarthritis in both of my knees.

There was still enough cartilage, but in OA you never know:

  • My knee pain wasn’t that terrible
  • But I had big problems with stiffness and loss of flexibility

So here’s exactly what was my plan:

  • Practice yoga for at least one month (I was a total newbie, so I needed time to get used)
  • Compare my shape with how I felt one month ago
  • Take a look at 4 aspects: flexibility, pain, stiffness, stress
  • See if there are any differences in each chapter

Once I finished the month, I could tell for real if yoga improved my osteoarthritis or not. Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought too.

I will only mention the exercises I did, not how to do them or anything. This article isn’t a guide for yoga exercises. It’s only about its results in OA and how it worked for me.

Note: While I did this experiment, I gave up any joint supplement so that I wouldn’t get biased results.



#1 – Flexibility: Average Improvement

What Articles Claim: Stretching exercises usually improve motion, so practicing yoga should help flexibility if you have osteoarthritis.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Well, the reality is pretty different – or at least in my case. 

Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis? (My 4 Steps Experiment)

The Exercises: As I had no experience with yoga and a terrible shape, it was pretty hard at first.

  • I started out with very easy exercises: stretches, pelvic movements.
  • After a while I was able to get better and I started more complicated exercises: downward dog, crescent pose.

You can find all the exercises I mentioned in Google. They are classic exercises for Yoga, so there are lots of tutorials.

Because of my condition, I wasn’t able to perform other kinds of exercises. I simply couldn’t stretch a lot and I had very little energy. But overall I could see a progress. 

Final Result: After a month, I sat down to track the progress – in terms of flexibility. As I said, I started out with very easy exercises and then I got to some that were more difficult. So this thing shows an improvement. My knees were able to stretch more now.

But in my opinion, bending down is the best proof of flexibility.

And I was able to bend my knees a bit now – but the change wasn’t very big. I was still in very bad pain whenever I tried. Walking around the home wasn’t very easy either. I could stand for longer, but I still got tired after 10 minutes and had to sit down. 

Conclusion: Yoga does improve flexibility a bit, but not considerably. I would say 30% at most, at least in my case. I could see a progress in the exercises I did, but it wasn’t so visible in daily activities.



#2 – Pain: No Improvement

What Articles Claim: Yoga could help pain management and improve function.

In my opinion, that’s really absurd. Yoga is all about physical exercises and maybe meditation. It has nothing to do with pain and it couldn’t do anything about it.

So I was pretty sure that any exercise couldn’t relieve my pain (not even partially).

Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis? (My 4 Steps Experiment)The Exercises: I basically performed the same exercises as before, so I won’t name them again. That was all I could do with my sore knee – and I didn’t even perform all of them correctly.

But I think that any movement helps, even if it was done correctly or not. 

Anyway, while I was doing these exercises I wasn’t in less pain than before. So my theory turned out to be right – the pain wouldn’t get better neither during the yoga session, nor afterwards.

Final Results: As I said, after about a month there was no real change. My OA pain had never been really bad, so I could bear it. But I couldn’t notice absolutely any improvement after my yoga month. 

The pain didn’t get worse, so the exercises didn’t affect my knees in the bad way. But they didn’t help either. So it was something like not having done anything different for the past month. That was a bit disappointing , to be honest.

All that effort was somehow in vain, when it comes to the pain.

Conclusion: Yoga doesn’t relieve the pain in any way. To give you a number, it would be about 0%. That’s the improvement I felt and I personally don’t believe that yoga could relieve anyone’s pain.



#3 – Stiffness: Average Improvement

What Articles Claim: Because of the physical activity it promotes, yoga can decrease joint stiffness considerably.

It could be true on the long term. It’s pretty much the same as with flexibility. As you exercise more, your body gets used to effort and the stiffness starts to decrease.

But I don’t believe in any overnight change. So in my opinion, you have to practice yoga for a long while to see an improvement at this chapter. Here’s what happened in my case:

The Exercises: Exactly the same ones as before, I didn’t do any special one for stiffness (I don’t even know if there are any).

Final Results: One month later, my joint were better in general. But there are some things I want to point out:

  • my sitting stiffness didn’t go away – I still felt very stiff if I sat down for more than 30 minutes
  • morning stiffness was still there (and it would last as much as before)

So my joints and knees improved a lot at this chapter, but that was mostly happening after exercising. When I finished, I was feeling more mobile. But a few hours later, it was just as before.

Conclusion: Yoga does help stiffness, but only temporary. At least that’s how it felt in my case – about 50% better (but only after finishing the yoga session). Afterwards, my stiffness would come back as strong as before. So it’s just a very temporary remedy, in my opinion.



#4 – Stress: Real Improvement

What Articles Say: Yoga can enhance pain management and reduce additional stress.

I don’t know about the first part, but the second one makes sense. If you enjoy practicing yoga, it will surely make you more relaxed and full of energy. However, if you’re new to this and you’re only doing it for the sake of experimenting, I doubt it could help. 

Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis? (My 4 Steps Experiment)So here’s how things went:

The Exercises: First stretches and pelvic movements, then crescent pose and downward dog – the ones I already mentioned. I probably didn’t do them all correctly, but that’s another story.

Final Results: Believe it or not, it really helped. I’m talking in terms of relieving stress, not pain management. When it comes to pain, I felt zero improvement.

But while I was performing the exercises, I managed to relax and stop worrying about the pain. I could still feel it, but it wasn’t that frustrating as before.

So I think that it was my stress decreasing, not my pain (when I would finish the exercises, the pain was as strong as before, that’s why I’m saying).

Conclusion: Yoga does help relieve the stress, that’s something I experienced myself. I would say somewhere around 70%, which is a lot. I wasn’t feeling very relaxed at first, but at the end of the month, I progressed a lot at this chapter.

So I recommend you to practice yoga for a longer time, if you want to relieve stress for real. Because it does help.



My Verdict – Can Yoga Help Osteoarthritis?

Short answer: Not really. Here’s a quick summary why:

  • It couldn’t do anything about my pain, that’s the #1.
  • It did improve my flexibility, but it wasn’t something major.
  • Also, my stiffness would go away after exercising, but it would come back as strong a few hours after. 

So I can’t really say it helped overall. The only chapter where I noticed an improvement was stress.

That’s not a real factor for OA, but it’s something part of your routine when you have this condition. So after I got used to yoga, I started feeling more relaxed during the sessions. 

But as I said, stress isn’t something very important for osteoarthritis. So when it comes to real things, no, yoga did not help me.

Would I try it again?: I wasn’t a big fan of it and I was mostly doing it for the sake of this experiment. So I wouldn’t practice it again for pleasure. And as it didn’t improve my OA, it’s not worth trying again.

Therefore – if you’re a fan of yoga, practice it. It will relieve your stress and it could improve your flexibility (but only a bit – and on the long term).

If you’re not, there’s no reason to try it – unless you really want to. But in terms of improvement, I couldn’t see any.

Heather Pharm.D.

Heather Tracy Foley is a Pharmacy graduate, Blogger and Author with a vast experience in health sciences. She has a particular interest in joint pain and rheumatology and spent several years studying health problems. You can find her on Pinterest or via email.

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