Severe Joint Pain and Stiffness – A global epidemic
Recent statistics have shown the number of us suffering with severe joint pain is rising. (A 2016 study reported 14.6 million Americans suffer, rising from 10.5 in 2010)
Many of us have jobs that increase the likelihood of joint pain; lower back pain is rife in nursing and musculoskeletal problems are also common in office workers. It’s easy to forget that while we sit at a computer, often our shoulders are hunched, and the head juts forward which places immense strain on our neck and shoulder muscles.
At worst, bad posture can lead to painful musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and osteoporosis, but even without these diseases, general stiffness can get in the way of us living our fullest life at home and work.
Why We Should Move When We Have Stiff Joints
Many who suffer from stiff joints think moving will make the pain worse, but there are some perfect Yoga poses for stiff joints that can help.
When we compress, stretch, rotate and balance, Yoga can release pain-relieving chemicals, such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine, improving the stress response and relieving pain.
Combining these movements with the breath stimulates neurons and synapses that promote serotonin production. This can create that ‘yoga calm.’
And these benefits aren’t reserved for avid long-term practitioners, even a 5-second cat pose can provide instant relief for lower back pain. Lower back pain often results from lack of movement and mobility. So when you give your lower spine a good stretch, you improve flexibility and stimulate flow of blood and neurotransmitters.
Yoga To Support Fascia
Fascia is tissue that connects each cell in our body. You could think of fascia as a type of cellular mesh that encases every muscle, bone, nerve, organ, and blood vessel in our body. A bit like the skin that covers each segment of an orange.
When your fascia is healthy, it allows your muscles to glide without jarring (called fascial gliding). Yoga improves fascial gliding so it’s ideal for relieving stiff joints.
We’d like to share our favourite poses for loosening those tight spots. You’ll see the best results by doing them regularly, little and often works wonders. Also, keep moving your joints in their full range of motion daily so that you maintain flexibility. If you are unable to join us in our Bristol studio, we’ve developed a series of classes for on our online platform perfect for deeper stretching and less intense movement, which you can check out here. And sign up for free for 10 days)
(We’ve also included the Sanskrit for each pose as it’s always lovely to use Sanskrit.)
As an experiment you might like to record any areas of tightness or stiffness and then after 6 to 12 sessions, notice any changes in your joints.
The Best Yoga Poses For Stiff Joints
Cat / Cow Pose (Marjaryasana – Bitilasana)
Cat-Cow Pose is two poses added together used to warm up, often at the beginning of a Yoga session. This gentle movement is simple, but has so many benefits.
On a physical level, these two poses relieve a stiff lower back and build back strength. While you arch your back in cat pose you draw your tummy in, working the abdominals to develop core strength. It also improves:
– Circulation as lengthening the spine promotes blood flow to the vertebrae.
– Flexibility. During this pose you flex and extend the entire spine.
– Posture. As cat-cow extends and improves the range of motion in your spine you can sit and stand better.
Cat-cow also massages your internal organs such as the gastrointestinal tract and female reproductive organs. Resultantly, this massaging effect promotes blood flow and oxygenation. Oxygenation is vital for transporting oxygen to the cells.
This pose is performed while breathing synchronously. Controlled breathing induces a state of deep relaxation which melts away tension that we hold in our muscles.
Doing this for as little as one minute can help maintain flexibility and potentially relieve lower back pain and stress. Try it every day, either when you wake up or before you go to bed to maintain spine flexibility.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Low lunge pose targets tight spots in the groin, hips, and legs, which makes Yoga an ideal cool-down exercise for runners and cyclists.
This pose is also great for those who suffer from rheumatoid and osteoarthritis in the knees. The stronger your muscles, the less achy they will feel. According to a 2018 study, regular practice of poses such as Low Lunge “is helpful in reducing knee arthritic symptoms, promoting physical function, and general wellbeing in arthritic patients.”
Low lunge builds strength in the muscles, tendons, and fascia that support the bones. Stronger knee muscles can take some of the body’s weight off the knee joint.
It’s worth noting that a calm central nervous system also improves pain sensitivity. A calm and relaxed state reduces activity in the neurotransmitters responsible for pain.
When we sit in our cars, at desks, or on the couch, there is rarely enough extension in the lower back. Without stretching, our muscles shorten. Because of this, stiffness develops. Cobra pose gets your body moving in the opposite direction. As you lift your upper body off the floor, your lower back muscles contract. This is ideal for strengthening the lower back muscles while lengthening the front of the body.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward facing dog pose engages all parts of the body which can benefit stiff joints, particularly the upper back.
Regular practice of downward facing dog can relieve tightness in the hamstrings, glutes, calf muscles, back, and shoulders. It does this in two ways: by strengthening the upper body and stretching out the muscles in the back of the leg.
This pose transfers most of your body weight on your arms, back, and shoulders which helps to develop strength. A stronger upper body is better able to hold the right posture.
To reap the most benefits from this pose, try to hold the pose for around a minute. You may feel considerable pain relief in your lower back and legs on release.
Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior 1 pose is also a favourite for tight spots and stiff joints.
The lunge aspect of Warrior 1 strengthens the knee which can help arthritic knees. Each time you lunge you strengthen the muscle mass and fascia surrounding the knee joint. Stronger knees mean less achy joints. Warrior 1 is also perfect for developing good posture as posture is key in preventing joint pain.
The benefits of Warrior 1 are wide-ranging:
– Stretches and opens the groin, ankles, belly, neck, arms, and legs.
– Improves balance and core stability for better posture
– Opens the chest, which is beneficial for stretching out hunched shoulders.
Practiced safely and with awareness, Yoga can help you soothe painful and swollen joints. It’s crucial to do the poses correctly, so attending a Yoga class with an experienced practitioner will ensure you get the most out of them.
We look forward to seeing you on the mat!