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Pain Management

3 Simple Yoga Exercises That Finally Soothed One Woman’s Arthritis and Joint Pain

“That’s the last of them,” the delivery man told Donna Cave after placing the 10th box next to her desk. She eyed the stack that she was meant to distribute around the office, and her stomach clenched as dread crept in.

“I basically take care of two real estate offices, which requires me to walk a lot. I’m moving boxes, delivering packages, keeping the pantries tidy and doing anything else that needs to be done,” says Donna. “But as the pain in my hip increased, I began to panic. Every single step I took was painful, and I didn’t know how I was going to go on.

Persistent Pain

“About two years ago, I started to notice that something was going on with my left hip. It felt tight, the way a joint feels right before you need to pop or crack it for relief, but I couldn’t ever seem to pop it. And it began to constantly feel like that, day and night. At first, it wasn’t restricting my movement or keeping me from doing anything, but with every step, I would be thinking ‘hip, hip, hip.’ It was just always there, making its presence known.

“But then it progressively got worse, and by December of 2019, it was painful with every step. There were days when I would feel all right in the morning, but by 3 pm, I wouldn’t dare get up from my desk. If there was something I needed to tend to in a different part of the office or some documents I needed to deliver, both of which were regular parts of my job, I’d consider just how pressing it was and if someone else could do it before I got up and walked across the office — it hurt that much to walk. At the end of the day, I would collapse into the driver’s seat in my car and quickly turn on the seat warmer, grateful for the tiny bit of relief the heat provided.

“Around the same time, I went for my annual physical. When I described my joint aches to my doctor, he immediately thought it was arthritis, but I was skeptical. I had always been pretty active and I never thought arthritis was something I needed to worry about. He referred me to an orthopedist, who took an X-ray and an MRI of my hip.

“What he found shocked us both: I had advanced arthritis in my left hip, and the ligaments were so worn away that it was basically bone on bone. He didn’t want me to get a hip replacement because I’m 64, and he said they really only last 20 years, so he asked if I would consider trying physical therapy. I was skeptical that it was going to make a difference for me; I had been exercising regularly, doing workouts that combine yoga and Pilates on fitness trainer Ellen Barrett’s streaming platform. But my hip had continued to deteriorate despite my efforts, so I agreed to give physical therapy a try to see if it would help me.

Relief at Last

“At my first session, I explained to the therapist I was working with that I had been doing a lot of hip-opening exercises, but that they didn’t seem to be helping. She told me I should keep doing them, plus she taught me a few new exercises that focused more on strengthening the muscles around my backside, like my glutes. She explained that working these muscles would create more space in the hip joint itself to help ease the joint aches I was experiencing. I’d seen these exercises before, but I never would have thought they could help with the pain in my hip.

“I began doing the combination of hip-opening and glute-strengthening exercises daily, and the pain disappeared much more quickly than I expected! Within just two weeks, I realized that I hadn’t thought about my hip in days.

“I only went to six physical therapy sessions and then stopped because I felt comfortable doing the exercises on my own. I continued to do so, plus searched on Ellen’s platform for other workouts, like Mat Pilates, that I knew incorporated the movements I needed.” And the exercises paid off! My office was closed for a few months last year due to covid-19, but by the time I returned, my hip had ceased being a problem. Now, if someone calls me from across the office or if there are packages that need distributing, I’ll jump out of my chair and take care of it. I’m looking forward to living active and pain-free for a long time to come!”

How Yoga-Inspired Moves Eliminate Joint Aches

“There is evidence that having stronger stabilizing muscles around the hip can delay the need for a total joint replacement,” says Steffany Moonaz, PhD, certified yoga therapist and director of Yoga for Arthritis. She explains that arthritis is characterized by the loss of connective tissue inside the joint.” But the stability that is lost from deteriorating connective tissue can be supplemented by strengthening the surrounding muscles,” including the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors. “The muscles surrounding the joint may also be tense in response to chronic pain,” notes Moonaz. “So it is important to release that tension.” And gentle exercises like yoga strike this balance to quickly banish pain. In fact, in a review conducted at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, yoga lessened pain by 50 percent, plus improved function, swelling, and joint tenderness in patients with arthritis.

To get the benefits, follow Donna Cave’s lead and try these three stretches at least four times a week.

Credit: Streetfly Studio Photography

Clam: This move strengthens the muscles on the outer hip and glute to support the hip joint. To do: Lie on your side with your knees bent and stacked. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee to the ceiling, then lower down. Repeat 15 times; switch sides to get rid of joint aches.

Credit: Streetfly Studio Photography

Spider-Man Lunge: This move strengthens muscles around both hips and the core to support the pelvis. To do: Start in a straight arm plank. Lift your right foot and plant it next to your right hand. Hold for 30 seconds, then return it to start. Repeat on the left. That’s one rep; complete ten reps.

Credit: Streetfly Studio Photography

Pigeon: This hip opener helps stretch and create space in the joint. To do: Start on all fours. Slide your right knee forward toward your right wrist. Keeping your hips facing forward, slide your left leg back to straighten. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch sides.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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