Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

Chair yoga 'can effectively treat osteoarthritis symptoms in older people'

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 20 January 2017

Older people with osteoarthritis could address many of their symptoms and improve their quality of life by practising an exercise technique known as chair yoga.

A new study from Florida Atlantic University, published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, has shown how chair yoga can have a beneficial impact on pain and physical function in older adults with osteoarthritis, showing this could be a valuable new alternative approach to managing the painful condition.

How chair yoga can improve quality of life

For this study, 131 older adults with osteoarthritis were asked to take part in either a health education programme or a regimen of chair yoga, a form of exercise that involves sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support.

Over an eight-week period, it was shown that participants in the chair yoga cohort experienced a greater reduction in pain and pain interference during their sessions, with this reduction lasting for about three months after the programme was completed.

The yoga intervention was also associated with reductions in fatigue and improvement in gait speed during the study session, though these benefits did not persist over the long term in the same way.

The specific benefits for older people

This could be a significant development for older osteoarthritis patients, because although it is well-established that regular exercise can help to relieve osteoarthritis pain, the ability to participate in physical activity often declines with age.

Yoga, in particular, has been shown to reduce joint pain, improve flexibility and balance, and reduce stress and tension, but older osteoarthritis frequently cannot participate due to a lack of muscle strength and balance, or excessive pain. For these individuals, chair yoga can offer a much-needed alternative.

Ruth McCaffrey, co-author and emeritus professor at Florida Atlantic University's College of Nursing, said: "With osteoarthritis-associated pain, there is interference in everyday living, limiting functional and social activities, as well as diminishing life enjoyment. The effect of pain on everyday living is most directly captured by pain interference, and our findings demonstrate that chair yoga reduced pain interference in everyday activities."

Arthritis Research UK's view

Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: "Yoga is a good form of exercise, as it involves stretching and strengthening muscles that support the joints, as well as promoting wellbeing. Most people can safely partake in gentle yoga, but it is always best to check with your GP.

"In recent years, we have funded a clinical trial into yoga and back pain, which found that a specially devised 12-week yoga programme led to improvements in back function and gave people more confidence in performing everyday tasks."

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Posted on Thursday 2nd February 2017