Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a chronic condition that can cause swollen joints, stiffness, and pain, making it difficult to move. There’s no cure for PsA, but regular exercise can help you manage your symptoms and feel better.
Some types of physical activity may work better for you than others. Yoga is a gentle, low-impact form of exercise that can be adapted to your individual abilities. Research also suggests it can provide relief from symptoms like pain that are associated with PsA.
Here’s what you should know about yoga for PsA, along with some poses to try.
Yoga allows you to build strength, flexibility, and balance without placing a lot of stress on your joints. Plus, there’s no minimum fitness level required to get started.
It’s important to be mindful about your body throughout your practice. Some poses might have twists and bends that could worsen PsA symptoms like pain.
The good news is that most yoga poses can be modified to suit your needs. You can also use props, like blocks and straps, to help you throughout your practice.
Yoga classes will usually involve a variety of poses, or asanas. Here are some of the best poses for people with PsA:
Seated Spinal Twist. Sit in a chair with a high back. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and place your feet flat on the ground. With your hands on your thighs, gently turn the upper part of your body to one side and hold for a few moments. Release and repeat on the other side.
Bridge. On a flat surface, lie on your back with your arms stretched flat along your side, knees bent, feet on the ground about hips-width distance apart, and ankles close to your buttocks. Press down into your feet to lift your hips up for a few seconds, then lower.
Cat-Cow. Start on a flat surface with your hands and knees on the ground and your back in a neutral position. Your knees should be directly under your hips and your hands should be right below your shoulders. Get into cat pose by rounding your back and tucking your head in slightly. Return to neutral, then shift into cow pose by lowering your belly, arching your back, and gazing up toward the ceiling. Gently alternate between the poses for a spinal stretch.
Cobbler’s Pose. Sit tall on a flat surface with the soles of your feet touching each other and your knees bent outward. Keeping your chest up, start to bend forward from the hips while using your elbows to put pressure on your thighs for a stretch.
Standing Forward Fold. Stand tall with your shoulders broad and your knees slightly bent. Keeping your back as straight as possible, start to bend forward from the waist. Release your arms and let them dangle toward the floor. Hang there for a few moments, then slowly rise back up, one vertebra at a time.
Warrior II. Step your feet almost as wide apart as the length of your mat, with your front foot facing forward and your back foot angled out about 45 to 90 degrees. Face your hips and upper body in the same direction as your back foot and raise your arms to the height of your shoulders, stretching them out to either side. Bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Baby Cobra. Lie stomach-down on a flat surface, keeping the tops of your feet pressed against the floor. Press your palms flat either under your shoulders or slightly out in front of you, bending your elbows in close to your body. Gently lift your head, neck, and chest off the floor while engaging your upper back muscles.
Yoga was first developed in India around 5,000 years ago. Since then, the practice has evolved into dozens of different types of yoga, including:
Bikram. Sometimes called hot yoga, Bikram is practiced in rooms that are warmed to 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It usually involves practicing a cycle of 26 poses during 90-minute classes.
Anusara. Anusara is an anatomically based yoga style that focuses on opening the heart. It emphasizes proper body alignment.
Viniyoga. This style of yoga works to coordinate breath and movement. It’s an individualized practice that can work well for people with arthritis and related conditions.
Kripalu. Kripalu is rooted in meditation and breath. It’s often taught in three stages. The first is recommended for people with arthritis, as it teaches the basics of the poses and anatomy.
Iyengar. Designed to build strength and flexibility, this type of yoga often involves using lots of props to get the body into proper alignment for each pose. The postures are held for longer periods of time than they are in other styles of yoga. It is generally regarded as safe for people with arthritis.
Ashtanga. Ashtanga yoga involves brisk flows synchronized with the breath. It’s a physically demanding style of yoga that may not be suitable for people with PsA.
There’s limited scientific evidence of the benefits of yoga specifically for PsA. However, research suggests that a regular yoga practice can have many positive effects that mitigate some of the physical symptoms associated with this condition, including:
- pain relief, especially in the neck and back
- increased pain tolerance
- improved balance
- increased blood flow
- enhanced flexibility
- greater muscle strength
- increased endurance
Yoga is much more than a physical practice — it’s a form of mind-body fitness. It can also provide a number of emotional and psychological benefits, including:
- a sense of calmness
- stress relief
- greater energy to live life fully
- reduced symptoms of depression
- improved self-confidence
It’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before trying yoga or any other type of exercise. Your doctor can provide guidance on specific movements to avoid, recommended duration of physical activity, and the degree of intensity you should strive for.
You should also pay attention to how your body is feeling both before and throughout your yoga practice. Putting unnecessary strain on inflamed joints could worsen a flare-up. If a specific pose or flow causes you pain, stop that activity right away. Always listen to your body and adjust as necessary.
Certain poses and yoga styles may not be suitable to some people with arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends avoiding positions that force your joints to bend more than 90 degrees or require balancing on one foot. Sitting sedentary during long meditation or breathing sessions in some types of yoga may also be difficult for people with PsA.
Regular exercise can help relieve some of the symptoms of PsA. If you’re looking for a gentle, low-impact physical activity that can be modified to your own body, you might want to try yoga.
Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. As you begin to practice yoga, always be mindful of the way your body is feeling and ease off any pose that causes you pain.