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How to Help Arthritis Pain with Chair Yoga

A pilot study found that volunteers had less arthritis pain and better quality of life after eight weeks of chair yoga practice.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University report that chair yoga can be an effective treatment for people suffering from osteoarthritis pain (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online Dec. 23, 2016). Many older people with significant hip, knee or ankle pain from arthritis might be reluctant to try yoga. Frequently, people experiencing pain find exercise challenging, even though moving joints and keeping muscles strong help people with arthritis do better over the long term.

Studying Chair Yoga as a Treatment for Arthritis:

The randomized controlled trial included 131 older adults with hip, knee, foot or ankle arthritis. Half attended health education sessions to serve as a control group. The other half attended chair yoga sessions twice a week for eight weeks. Both types of sessions lasted 45 minutes each time.

What Were the Effects of Chair Yoga?

The volunteers who did yoga poses while seated had a greater reduction in pain and improvement in measures of quality of life compared to those in the health education group. Older people can stay active with chair yoga even if their balance is compromised. Many find this more difficult with traditional yoga, either standing or on the floor.

Frail, Elderly People Benefit from Yoga Practice:

Most people don’t imagine frail elderly people doing yoga, but a meta-analysis indicates that we should. A systematic review of 33 randomized controlled trials found that older adults have stronger legs and walk better after practicing yoga (Annals of Internal Medicine, March 14, 2023). Results on better balance, which could help reduce falls among frail elders, were less clear.

Learn More:

If you are interested in other non-drug approaches to reducing arthritis pain in addition to yoga practice, you may wish to consult our online resource, Alternatives for Arthritis.

Be sure to listen to Show 1065 about how yoga can benefit everyone. You may also wish to listen to Show 1203: How Yoga Can Help You Age Gracefully.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Park J et al, "A pilot randomized controlled trial of the effects of chair yoga on pain and physical function among community-dwelling older adults with lower extremity osteoarthritis." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online Dec. 23, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.14717
  • Loewenthal J et al, "Effect of yoga on frailty in older adults: A systematic review." Annals of Internal Medicine, March 14, 2023. https://doi.org/10.7326/M22-2553
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