Osteoarthritis is a chronic, long-term disease that affects millions of elderly adults. There is currently no known cure for it and treatment options are limited. New research, however, suggests that chair yoga is effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain.

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The first new randomized control study suggests that chair yoga may be effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain.
Image credit: Florida Atlantic University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 26 million adults aged 25 and above.

The condition is more prevalent among the elderly, affecting over 33 percent of seniors who are 65 years and older.

Also known as degenerative joint disease, the condition affects the hyaline cartilage in the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling.

Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, research has shown that exercise, such as swimming or walking, is one of the best therapies available.

However, seniors may find it increasingly difficult to stay physically active. With age, many adults lose the ability to exercise while standing, as the muscle strength and balance decline. When affected by osteoarthritis, the pain makes it even more difficult to participate in full-body physical activity.

This is why a team of researchers from Florida Atlantic University set out to examine the benefits of a less exerting type of yoga practice for seniors with osteoarthritis.

Examining the role of chair yoga in seniors with osteoarthritis

The team, led by Juyoung Park, Ph.D., and Dr. Ruth McCaffrey, conducted the first randomized trial to investigate the effects of chair yoga on adults with osteoarthritis in their lower extremities.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In the trial, 131 community-dwelling elderly adults with osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, ankle, or foot were randomly selected to follow either a Health Education program (HEP), or a Sit'N'Fit Chair Yoga program.

The participants undertook two 45-minute weekly sessions of either the HEP or chair yoga for 8 weeks.

Chair yoga is practiced either by sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support.

The researchers primarily measured joint pain and how much the pain affects their day-to-day lives, or "pain interference." They also took secondary measurements of balance, fatigue, gait speed, and functional ability.

The team measured these parameters at baseline, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks into the interventions, as well as 1 month and 3 months after the interventions had ended.

Chair yoga reduces pain interference

The study showed an association between chair yoga and a reduction in pain, pain interference, and fatigue, as well as an improvement in gait speed.

Compared with participants in the HEP, those who participated in chair yoga reported a greater reduction in pain interference both during the sessions and 3 months after the chair yoga program ended.

However, the reductions in pain and fatigue did not last beyond the intervention, and chair yoga had no effect on balance.

Park explains the significance of the study:

"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."

Dr. McCaffrey also highlights the importance of chair yoga as an alternative therapy for seniors with osteoarthritis:

"Currently, the only treatment for osteoarthritis, which has no cure, includes lifestyle changes and pharmacologic treatments that are not without adverse events. The long-term goal of this research is to address the non-pharmacologic management of lower extremity osteoarthritis pain and physical function in older adults, and our study provides evidence that chair yoga may be an effective approach for achieving this goal."

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