Of all the possible osteoarthritis treatments, one stands out as the most effective with the fewest side effects: exercise. Even for overall health and a wide range of other medical conditions, we all know that exercise is key. However, in older adults, exercise can pose a challenge. Although exercise can help osteoarthritis, the stiff joints or other problems such as poor balance can make exercise difficult or even impossible. This leaves the arthritic senior in a catch-22 situation: exercise can help their osteoarthritis but they cannot exercise because of their osteoarthritis.
Researchers may have just solved this dilemma, according to a new study. Scientists at Florida Atlantic University set out to discover if chair yoga can benefit seniors with osteoarthritis. For their study, the researchers placed 131 elderly adults with lower-body osteoarthritis into two groups, with one group following a health education program and one group following a Sit 'n' Fit Chair Yoga program. For two months, these seniors performed two weekly 45-minute sessions of their program. Researchers looked mainly at joint pain and pain interference, which is how much the pain affects the participants' day-to-day lives. They also looked at the participants' balance, fatigue, gait speed, and functional ability, taking these measurements during the eight weeks of intervention and up to three months later.
What is chair yoga?
Chair yoga differs from regular yoga in that the participants perform their movements while either sitting in a chair or holding on to a chair for support. The participants are moving, but their movements are more limited versus someone performing yoga standing freely, with gentle yoga movements. This type of yoga may benefit those who have medical conditions that prevent them from standing or those who have balance problems that can make standing difficult or even dangerous. Although exercise such as yoga can benefit osteoarthritis patients, it was unclear before this study whether the limitations of chair yoga would still provide the same benefits as regular exercise for pain and mobility.
What did the study find?
The researchers discovered that chair yoga does indeed seem to help seniors with osteoarthritis pain. Compared to the health education program, the seniors performing chair yoga reported a greater reduction in their pain interference, which means that their osteoarthritis was having less of an impact on their daily lives. These benefits seemed to last months after the chair yoga program was complete.
The results were different for pain and fatigue. Although seniors reported improvements in these symptoms during intervention, these improvements did not continue after the exercise program ended. It seems the seniors would likely have to keep exercising regularly to maintain these benefits. Chair yoga seemed to have no effect on the participants' balance, neither positive nor negative. That said, sitting or holding onto a chair during exercise could help these seniors prevent a fall due to balance issues.
Although having foot, ankle, knee, or hip osteoarthritis would normally prevent arthritic seniors from getting exercise, the light exercise of chair yoga seemed to work, improving their quality of life. The study results suggest ongoing chair yoga exercise programs in seniors' homes and seniors' activity centers could provide ongoing help for elderly adults affected by osteoarthritis.
How does exercise benefit osteoarthritis?
Although some osteoarthritis patients may hesitate, most doctors recommend exercising regularly. Patients may believe exercise worsens osteoarthritis, putting strain on damaged joints, or their pain and stiffness may be holding them back from exercising. Generally, light exercise is beneficial to osteoarthritis, helping strengthen cartilage and bone within the joint and strengthening muscles around the joint to help shock absorption. With some light physical activity, patients may reduce their pain and stiffness and strengthen their bones to avoid further injury. Exercise is also beneficial for general health, reducing the risk of heart disease, improving energy and mood, and reducing feelings of depression, among other benefits.
How should someone with osteoarthritis exercise?
Although exercise benefits osteoarthritis, patients cannot perform just any strenuous activity. There are some things patients should keep in mind to reduce their chance of injury.
Take it slow
Doctors usually recommend their osteoarthritis patients start exercising slowly. Starting with a few minutes of activity at a time, patients should take frequent rests to ensure they are not overtaxing their joint.
Rapid and repetitive are wrong
Osteoarthritis patients should avoid rapid movement and repetitive movements that continually put strain on a joint. Walking fast can put stress on joints, so patients should adapt their walking speed depending on the severity of their osteoarthritis. Selecting appropriate shoes or inserts can also help reduce excess joint strain.
Not everyone is affected by osteoarthritis in the same way or to the same extent. One type of exercise does not fit all, so doctors and patients should look at the individual patient to work out an exercise program that would work best for them.
What other osteoarthritis treatment options do patients have?
Although exercise is considered the best non-drug osteoarthritis treatment, it is not always enough. In addition to exercise, patients may still need medical intervention to treat their osteoarthritis symptoms.
Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication can help patients cope with their discomfort. These may include analgesics such as acetaminophen and opioids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib.
This type of drug can help reduce inflammation. These may be oral drugs or injections at the doctor's office.
If osteoarthritis progresses, an orthopedic surgeon may need to perform surgery to replace the damaged joint. Doctors most commonly replace the knee or hip joint.
Hyaluronic acid injections
Doctors may administer hyaluronic acid injections in their office. By injecting this gel-like medical device into a joint, doctors can replace or supplement the patient's own joint fluid which naturally contains hyaluronic acid. The gel can act both as a lubricant and a shock absorber for the joint, preventing stress and friction within the joint. This can help reduce inflammation, reducing pain and improving joint function. These injections can provide an alternative to pain medication and help delay surgery.
These hyaluronic acid, or sodium hyaluronate, injections may involve a single injection every few months or a set of three to five injections every few months. To learn more about these viscosupplements, such as Synvisc and Synvisc One, Orthovisc and Monovisc, Hyalgan, Supartz, Durolane, Euflexxa, and Crespine Gel Plus, visit DoctorMedica.co.