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A new study at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) showed that Iyengar yoga may be effective at offering relief for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is a disease that most commonly affects women, and, if gone untreated, leads to joint and bone deterioration. When it first comes on, most people experience fatigue, stiffness, joint pain, and possibly flu symptoms. As it worsens, joints may deteriorate to a point of great disrepair.
It’s a particularly tricky type of arthritis to treat because, unlike osteoarthritis, which is the deterioration of the joints from wear and tear, RA is an autoimmune disease that effects the entire body. Exercise is often prescribed for RA because it helps to stabilize the joints. But there’s been little research on yoga’s effects on RA until now.
This latest study offered Iyengar yoga classes to 11 women with RA and allowed a control group of 15 women to continue with their regular lives for the duration of the 6-week study. The results, says UCLA pain researcher Kristin Lung, showed that the yoga practitioners had improved in several areas—including general health, vitality, and—while the control group stayed the same.
However, the yoga practitioners did not report a difference in their pain levels—only their ability to cope with the pain. But it was also determined that six weeks was probably not long enough to make a firm determination about whether or not the yoga might be able to help pain. And, as most pain doctors will tell us, the ability to cope better with pain means less stress. Less stress means less muscle tension and cortisol in the body, which often naturally leads to less actual pain. Hopefully, the studies will continue until the data becomes more conclusive