Yoga and psoriatic arthritis: How it helps

| Steve Bieler

Psoriatic disease might seem like a deal-breaker when you want to exercise. Who wants to move when movement hurts?

The key here is “gentle” movement, and that’s just what you can find with yoga.

“In the context of chronic pain, it’s common for people to guard against their pain by contracting their muscles, which compromises your breathing and can increase the sensation of pain,” explained Kimberly Carson, a health educator and yoga therapist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.

Carson taught yoga at Duke University’s Center for Living, in Durham, North Carolina, for more than 10 years. At Duke, she served as a yoga therapist and researched using yoga and meditation for various medical conditions, including chronic low back pain, metastatic breast cancer pain and chemotherapy-related joint pain.

“One of the really important benefits of yoga is to get movement back into an area that has been contracting,” Carson said. “This will also improve joint mobility and help give you the muscle tone necessary to support affected joints. These changes would be especially helpful for people with the joint pain seen in psoriatic arthritis.”

You don’t have to become a yoga master to notice differences in your mood or pain level. Fifteen or 20 minutes a day with some simple poses can work wonders. The important things are finding a yoga teacher who has worked with people who experience chronic pain and then sticking with a specific program. An experienced teacher will know how to make modifications in yoga movements and poses so that more people can safely participate.

Your doctor or physical therapist may be able to recommend a suitable class. You can also look for gentle or pain-focused yoga classes at hospitals, medical centers and YMCAs or search the International Association of Yoga Therapists for what’s available in your area.

Here are four gentle yoga routines to try out at home, but please be sure to clear these with your doctor first!

1. Shoulder stretch

Pain and stiffness in the shoulder area is common. Try incorporating these stretches into your wake-up routine. That way, the only time you'll do the robot is on the dance floor. 

2. Back stretch

You don't have to take back pain sitting down. However, you can relieve it with this seated side-bending stretch that can be performed in a chair. By the way, this is a particularly good one to do at work to relieve stiffness from sitting in front of a computer. 

3. Core and leg strengthener

Stronger core muscles will ease the strain on your joints. But the key to this bridging exercise is to start small with very small lifts. As you get stronger, you'll be able to lift yourself higher. 

4. Spine stretch

When psoriatic arthritis affects the spine, everyday moves like twisting and turning can become difficult. Keep your spine limber with this simple seated twist that can be performed in a chair.

These yoga moves were created by Tasha MacIlveen, P.T. with guidance from the American Physical Therapy Association. The information posted on NPF Blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. A special thanks to our model Lisa Schmidt.  


Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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