Arthritis is a medical term used to describe more than 100 dis-eases with one common factor: inflammation of the joints.
Arthritis can cause joint pain worsening during the day with or without swelling, redness, and hotness. It can lead to limited range of motion ROM with stiffness (especially after rest or inactivity), atrophy (muscle loss), leading to weakness, depression, and lack of motivation with exercise further exacerbating the degenerative process.
As we age, wear and tear can contribute to deterioration of the soft tissues (joint fluids, tendons, and cartilage) that protect and cover the joints. Water begins to build within the cartilage and the protein inside degenerates leading to loss of lubrication and bone on bone contact, which is often quite painful.
In the journey of a lifetime exercise can be a healing modality or a pathway to degenerative changes.
This degenerative disease is brought on by the wear and tear of life, inflammation, repetitive stress and ones very own constitution. Deterioration can be attributed to pressure and gravity on the joints from obesity, heredity, repetitive stress and ones constitution.
Yoga has been a “Joint Friendly” benefactor of arthritis with attention to strengthening the joints, observing and releasing tension patterns, minimizing atrophy (muscle wasting d/t pain and inertia), reducing stiffness, assisting balance, and regulating levels of uric acid (gout), reducing obesity, while bringing overall general attention to health and well-being with the art of attention and loving kindness or self love.
Yoga is a non-impact form of exercise with a Big Impact on maintaining joint mobility; relieve pain and stiffness, and decreases cortisol, cholesterol, and uric acid. It is effective for preventing atrophy and promoting beneficial resilient muscle while regulating body mass and weight. Yoga is known to be a mood enhancer and relieve stress through breath-work, physical poses and meditation. People look and feel younger when they develop a regular pranayama and hatha yoga practice. Each attentive inhale and exhale creates support and structure that allows one to move (within the movement) with the purposeful breath during yoga and eventually daily activities.
The common types of arthritis are Osteoarthritis (most common), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, and Fibromyalgia.
Osteoarthritis - Degenerative Arthritis is among the more common diseases worldwide affecting %40 of Americans from 45-64 and a whopping %60 age 65 and older. 80% of women in the USA are much more prone to osteoarthritis which commonly affects the knees, hips, hands, feet, and spine.
Affects millions of Americans young and old. Age can increase the risk and vulnerability of arthritis yet children, teens and young adults can acquire this progressive disease.
Affects men more than women with high levels of uric acid.
Fibrobyalgia predominantly affects the female population and can co-occur with rheumatoid arthritis. It is a generalized widespread pain whereas arthritis is localized within the joint area. Between 10-15% of osteoarthritis sufferers have Fibromyalgia.
This gender factor is dually noted in Ayurveda as well. According to Ayurveda, osteoarthritis is a Vata/Pitta, Pitta/Vata condition whereas rheumatoid arthritis is a Kapha condition. Arthritis is correlated to poor muscle and bone health, disproportionate body weight, asymmetrical patterns from repetitive stress on the joints minimizing a normal ROM, and an unhealthy lifestyle.
Western Treatments of Osteoarthritis include weight management, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and medication for pain relief orally and possibly within the joint, and exercise. Even among western modalities and exercise, yoga is a prime alternative treatment for this degenerative disease along with walking, water therapy, acupuncture, massage, polarity and diet. Joint replacement is a palliative option when all others fail.
Unfortunately there is no cure for osteoarthritis. With astute observation, mindfulness, yoga, Ayurveda, a Vata/Pitta pacifying diet and these aforementioned modalities we can slow down the degenerative process and relieve suffering.
Arthritis Types According to Ayurveda
In Ayurveda Arthritis is called “Amavata” which translates in Sanskrit as TOXIC-AIR caused by internal and external factors. Most Osteo-Arthritis is considered a Vata disease and most often takes place in one’s Vata years (post menopausal). Arthritis is related to poor digestion and accumulation of toxins.
Our state of AGNI or digestive fire is a major factor in the disease process.
Joints are classified in three separate types.
Within these three classifications of joints each is distinguished by their ability to articulate;
Arthritis mostly affects the large number of freely movable joints called:
Diarthroses, which are composed of the knee, hip, elbow, wrist, finger, and toe.
Immovable joints (synarthroses) ie: skull joints.
Slightly movable joints (amphiarhtoses) are the vertebrae of the spine which are not as affected by arthritic changes.
Joint health is affected by:
Imbalanced Doshas (mostly VATA)
Presence of Ama (natural buildup of toxins)
The most common form of Arthritis occurs when Vata is allowed to remain imbalanced over a prolonged period of time. The main tissue of Vata is bone (bone density). Vata enters the bone from poor digestion, low Agni, environmental exposure and insufficient waste removal with its accumulation of Ama (toxins) in the colon (seat of Vata), which are then transported, to the joints. Injury, stress, “wear and tear”, and repetitive patterns repeatedly wear down the joints protective cartilage diminishing the synovial fluid and protective coverings leading to bone on bone.
Arthritis is more common in windy, stormy, damp, dry and cold climates. It is considered an immune system disorder where the body attacks itself.
Ayurveda and Arthritis
Ayurveda classifies Arthritis within the three constitutional categories of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha and each of the types & stages (Samprapti) of this degenerative disease.
The joints in Vata arthritis will include immobilizing, throbbing, or searing pain that can be variable. Joints may be cool to the touch. Heat relieves the pain and cold aggravates the joint. Pain is felt upon movement with a localized area of pronounced tenderness. There can also be stiff and cracking joints d/t Vata. . Strenuous exercise exacerbates the pain promoting more stiffness with inactivity. Deformation of the joints can occur along with muscle wasting and asymmetry. There may be constipation, abdominal distention and gas accompanying this disease and is one of the markers of the first stage of arthritis.
Redness, inflammation, swelling and a burning sensation are the hallmarks of this variety. Pain is alleviated by cold and stimulated by heat. Concurring symptoms can be sweating, irritability, and loose bowel movements.
Edema, swelling, and stiffness in and around the joints where the pain is somewhat localized, dull, achy and heavy feeling with limited ROM (range of motion). Heat will relieve the pain and damp, cool weather will aggravate it. Some movement and exercise will reduce the pain, which can be greater in the morning and diminishes during the day. Along with this the skin can be oily with congestion and mucus in the stool.
Treatment for Arthritis
Ayurveda’s treatment for arthritis is unique according to each individual clients constitution, lifestyle, diet, emotional patterning, and age.
The main feature and starting point is to initiate a progressive treatment through the colon for all dosha’s. Vata is involved in most of these cases or is the initiator of the imbalanced state leading to the final functional and structural changes.
Osteoarthritis is particularly alleviated by the preventative modality of Ayurveda early on in the disease process.
Reducing Vata is the keystone of treatment!
We pacify Vata through diet, herbal remedies, lifestyle and the removal of toxins.
Following a Vata/Pitta/Kapha (VPK) pacifying diet is essential depending on which arthritis is presented.
Western medicine has a great role to play in the progression of this disease to maintain and protect the natural joint. There are multiple non-surgical options including physical, aquatic, and manual therapy, active release technique, anti-inflammatory medications, cortico-steroid and cutting edge injections. The final options include osteotomy with re-alignment, arthroscopy to reshape bone, surgical dislocations, and finally semi and total joint replacements by an orthopedic specialist.
It is paramount to have an initial and correct diagnosis through X-ray, MRI, specialized scans, manipulation, palpitation, and clinical observation by a certified medical/surgical specialist, or professional. Once an Ayurvedic Practitioner has the essential tools they can work along with a M.D., PA or health care worker.
Ayurveda is a fascinating science that is 5000 years old and allows us to blend its ancient wisdom with modern medicine for the prevention and treatment of arthritis.
Blending western and eastern modalities are the foundational tools in Ayurveda.
Helena Zera, RN, 500E~RYT, 200~APTA, 200Ayuryoga