Yoga’s Powerful Effect On The Human Joints
- What is Yoga?
- What is a joint and how does it work?
- How is a healthy joint different from an unhealthy joint?
- How does yoga affect the joints, healthy and unhealthy?
Let’s start with…What is Yoga?
Side Note #1
What is a joint, and how does it work?
Defining the 4 Motions of the Joints
- Gliding motion– allows the bones to glide past one another in any direction along the plane of a joint, including up, down, left, right, and diagonal motions. Example- hand waving side-to-side.
- Angular motion– a movement in which the angle between two adjoining bones is decreased, as in flextion, or increased, as in extension. This also includes hyperextension, abduction, and adduction. Example- moving head backward and forward as if saying yes to someone.
- Circumduction motion– circular or conical movement of a body part consisting of flection, extension, adduction and abduction. Example- rotating hand from the wrist.
- Rotation motion– a movement in which a bone or limb pivots or revolves around a single long axis. Example- externally rotating your leg
The Main Components That Make Up A Joint
To get a better understanding of how a joint works, let’s look at the main components that make up a joint. First let’s talk about the subchondral bone. This is the part of bone located just above the cartilage that is the foundation of cartilage.
Cartilage is a living tissue, and its main purpose is to allow perfect sliding between bones. It also helps distribute pressure on the bones and is good for cushioning the bones due to its elastic and resistant properties. Cartilage completely renews itself approximately every 3 months. Small pieces of it break away and are eliminated by the synovial membrane. The synovial membrane secrets the synovial fluid that acts as the lubricant for joints, creating that perfect slide between bone ends.
How is a healthy joint different from an unhealthy joint?
As I described above, a healthy joint has a full range of motion with all the internal components working properly. Thus creating perfect slide between bones allowing the distribution of pressure on the bones during movement of the body. A healthy joint doesn’t commonly have pain, because there is the proper amount of synovial fluid and proper elimination of excess cartilage fragments. A joint that is not healthy however, typically does have pain.
How does yoga affect the joints, healthy and unhealthy?
Yoga provides a foundation for strengthening and stretching muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. This helps allow joint flexibility and range of motion, while also helping move the fluids through the body. Specifically, yoga helps circulate synovial fluid through the joints, which we learned above helps lubricate the joints. With stronger and more flexible muscles, the greater the ability to stabilize a joint. We minimize risk of injury with yoga, because flexibility and strength allow for greater impact absorption as well as more effective weight distribution. From all my research the most important way to maintain healthy joints is exercise and movement. Yoga is an excellent way to move the body and help maintain healthy functioning joints. In short, yoga helps keep healthy joints healthy.
Now lets look at the effects of yoga on unhealthy joints. Their have been just over a dozen scientific studies done on persons with OA (Osteoarthritis) and RA (Rheumatoid arthritis). All the studies done, including the largest one to date in 2015 at the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, concludes that yoga may be beneficial. It provides physical and psychological health benefits, reduces stress and shows some improvements in emotional/mental well-being. Finally and maybe most notably, yoga has an important positive effect on the quality of life. Several years after the studies, many participants still practice yoga and consider it an important part of their lifestyle and disease management.
Are there risks, or poses to avoid in yoga?
Whether you have healthy joints or arthritic joints the rule is the same, if it hurts, stop or back off a little bit. With yoga, you want to listen to the body and ease into poses. One goal of yoga is to be conscious of proper body structure and alignment. It’s important to keep the bones stacked so you’re not putting extra stress on your joints. Like with any practice, if you use improper technique you risk injury. As far as poses to avoid, some studies show that arthritic patients should not go to deep in back bends. Those with arthritis in the hips, be cautious with hip openers or poses with extreme external rotation of the hips. It’s recommended for individuals, arthritic or not, to talk to a yoga instructor on advice on how to modify a pose if needed.
Here is a link to an article on poses for arthritic patients. It has some good pictures showing how you can use props to modify poses as needed.
Side Note #2
I found this article that did an interesting review. The aim of this review was to assess published case reports and case series on adverse events associated with yoga. Many databases were screened through Feb. 2013, resulting in a total of 76 cases collected. Pranayama, hatha yoga, and Bikram were the most common yoga practices. Headstands, shoulder stands, lotus position, and forceful breathing were the most common yoga poses and breathing techniques cited. Results of the review suggest that beginners should avoid headstands, lotus position, and forceful breathing. Check out the article for more detailed information on the results of the study.
Yoga is Powerful
In conclusion, the practice of yoga is powerful. When done regularly there are many health benefits both physically and mentally. Even those with arthritic discomfort have expressed increased quality of life from their yoga practice. As a result of looking at the studies and articles out there it’s easy to conclude that yoga is a great practice for everyone. It can have a positive effect on both healthy and arthritic joints, increasing strength and flexibility.
If practiced with attention to body posture and bone alignment, yoga is an excellent low impact activity for all. As we age, we need to keep the body moving and the juices flowing for our joints to maintain proper function. I believe that yoga can help you do just that!
In addition to lowering stress, yoga can help you sleep better as well as reduce anxiety. It can reduce inflammation, improve heart/cardiovascular fitness and finally helps keep bones and joints strong and limber. The results of my study strongly support yoga as way to stay active and healthy. There is so much information on this subject, I made sure to include all my resources. I just grazed the surface in this article, to dive deeper, check out the links below.
http://www.arthrolink.com/en/disease/understanding/what-normal-joint-0 – has a picture of a joint