Using Yoga to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis


Wasmer-Andrews, Linda

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Yoga is one of the hottest fitness trends today, and with good reason. It combines physical poses, breathing exercises, and meditation for a total mind/body workout. With yoga, you can fight stress, find serenity, and increase fitness, all at the same time.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), yoga may be especially good for you. Doing yoga may lessen the pain of RA, according to a 2013 analysis of the combined results from several studies. It also helps keep your body strong and flexible. Plus, it helps ease depression, anxiety, and sleep problems—conditions that are more common in people with RA.

You can modify Yoga to suit your needs and abilities. That particularly comes in handy when you have RA. With appropriate instruction, most people can do gentler styles of yoga safely. Check with your doctor first, however, to make sure it’s okay for you.

Choosing a Yoga Class

Be aware: There are many types of yoga, and some are harder on your body than others. Ask to try out a class or take a private lesson before signing up for more. In general, look for a slow, gentle workout. Viniyoga and Iyengar yoga are often good choices. Classes advertised for “seniors” or “beginners” may also work, even if you’re neither.

Some classes use props, such as foam blocks or ropes, to help support your body. That can lessen the physical stress of holding a pose. Smaller classes or private lessons are usually preferable because they allow for more individual attention.

Ideally, the instructor should have training and experience in teaching students with arthritis. Let the instructor know about your RA and any limitations it imposes.

Customizing Yoga Poses

Make sure the instructor is willing to help you modify poses, if needed. For example, some yoga poses require you to support much of your body weight on your hands. That can be a problem for people with RA, which often affects the hand and wrist joints. In such situations, the instructor should be able to modify the pose or substitute another one.

Steer clear of classes in which everyone goes through exactly the same moves without regard to each person’s individual needs. You may also want to avoid power yoga, which is a more strenuous, fast-paced workout.

If your mobility is seriously limited, consider a chair yoga class. In this adapted form of yoga, you do most of the moves while seated in a chair or wheelchair. A few may be done while standing and holding onto the chair for balance. Practiced correctly, chair yoga may have many of the same mind/body benefits as regular yoga.

The popularity of yoga is easy to understand. It’s the ultimate two-for-one bargain, exercising your body and calming your mind. Thanks to a growing number of yoga classes for people with health concerns, you don’t have to miss out just because you have RA.

Key Takeaways

  • Doing yoga may lessen the pain of RA, increase your strength and flexibility, and help ease depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

  • In general, look for a slow, gentle workout, such as viniyoga and Iyengar yoga.

  • Your instructor should have training in teaching students with arthritis and be willing to help you modify poses.

Inflammation from RA can make it difficult to use your hands.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2017

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Medical References

  1. The Contribution of Pain and Depression to Self-Reported Sleep Disturbance in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Nicassio. PM, et al. Pain. 2012;153:107-12.;
  2. The Suitability of Yoga as a Potential Therapeutic Intervention for Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Focus Group Approach. Ward, L, et al. Musculoskeletal Care. 2011;9:211-21.;
  3. Yoga for Functional Ability, Pain and Psychosocial Outcomes in Musculoskeletal Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ward. L, et al. Musculoskeletal Care, published online Jan. 9, 2013.;
  4. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Complementary Health Approaches. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, August 2012. (;
  5. RA’s Emotional Burden. Arthritis Foundation, undated. (;
  6. Beginner Yoga: 10 Tips to Help You get Started. Bernstein, S. Arthritis Foundation, undated. (;
  7.  Chair Yoga. Richards, L. Arthritis Today (Arthritis Foundation), undated. (;
  8. Yoga That's Right for You. Pagan, CN. Arthritis Today (Arthritis Foundation), undated. (;
  9. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms. American Academy of Family Physicians, July 2010. (;
  10. How Can I Manage Stress? American Heart Association, 2012. (;
  11. Yoga for Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, May 2012. (;

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