More than 80 per cent of people over the age of 40 complain of some joint problem and the reason for this varies from hereditary to calcium deficiency and obesity to arthritis. Before understanding how to maintain proper health and function of the joints, let us begin with understanding our joints.
A joint is a place in our body where two or more bones come together. Joints help in different degree of movements of our body. Most of our day-to-day activities such as sitting, standing, jumping, running, walking, bending, stretching, holding etc. depend on the integrity and healthy condition of our joints.
Classification of joints can be done both structurally and functionally. Structurally there are three kinds of joints:
- Fibrous – these are immovable joints. e.g.: Skull and pelvis.
- Cartilaginous – Slightly movable joints where bones are attached by cartilage to allow slight movement. e.g.: Spine, Ribs.
- Synovial – Freely movable joints where the cavities between the bones are filled with synovial fluid to allow free movement by providing lubrication to the joints and protecting the bones. e.g.: Knee joint, Shoulder joint, hip joint.
According to Ayurveda, all the supportive tissues, bones, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue, are Kapha dosha predominant, while the joint cavity or space where the bones meet is ruled by Vata dosha. The joint capsule provides a container for the synovial fluid (kapha substance), that lubricates the ends of the bones and also accommodates a sturdy, protective covering around the joint into which the ligaments and tendons can insert themselves. Vata dosha helps in movement of the joints, nerve impulses are transmitted through the ligaments to the muscles to signal movements.
It is no secret that joint pain can negatively affect the quality of one’s life. The excruciating pain not only affects joint movements but can have a damaging effect on one’s personal, social and professional life. There are eight major joints in our body that are most commonly affected. They are:
- Wrist joint
- Elbow joint
- Shoulder joint
- Lumbar joint
- Pelvic or hip joint
- Knee joint
- Ankle joint
Pain in the joints can be either due to imbalance of vata dosha or it can be due to accumulation of ama or toxin in the joints.
A simple test done at home with sesame oil can tell you if pain in joint is due to vata imbalance or due to ama. Apply and gently massage some warm sesame oil into the joints. If the pain and stiffness are aggravated then there is ama present, a condition known as amavata. If the symptoms are alleviated by the oil massage or stay the same, then the pain is due to imbalance of vata dosha, a condition known as Sandhigathavata.
The dryness of vata can diminish the lubricating qualities of kapha and joint surfaces can become rough and brittle. Common symptoms of vata imbalance in the joints are dryness, popping and cracking sound, and muscle tics and spasms. Improper use of the joints, overexertion, stress, improper jogging, jumping, excessive exercise and injury, diet that consists of dry, bitter, astringent, cold, spicy food consumption and lifestyle contribute to the problem. Living in cold, dry climate also causes joint pain. Seasonal variation is yet another factor for increased joint pain. Not forgetting age, usually over 40, when one begins to experience this problem.
Joint pains MUST be addressed immediately. The sooner you consult an Ayurveda expert, the more effective the results. After assessing the imbalance in the vata or ama, an Ayurveda expert may recommend procedures like janu basti, kati basti, patra panda sweda, abhyanga, churna sweda, etc with different herbal oils suiting to individually body type and problem. A personalized diet and lifestyle changes will also be recommended.
Here are some dietary changes that helps in pacifying vata dosha:
- Include all six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent in your diet. Favor the sweet, sour, and salty tastes, as these help to pacify vata dosha, and eat less of the bitter, astringent and pungent foods.
- Grains such as quinoa, rye and amaranth cooked in water and mixed with ghee are known to reduce vata.
- Reduce the consumption of potatoes, peas, okra, cabbage, cauliflower, whole grains, channa etc as it increases vata.
- Split mung dhal soup, green vegetables, and sweet juicy fruits are beneficial in vata reduction.
- Avoid fried, bakery, tea, alcohol, coffee, smoking, ice cream.
- It’s important to eat a diet rich in calcium hence include milk and vegetables such as spinach, kale, asparagus, and root vegetables cooked with spices such as ginger, cardamom, cloves, garlic, cinnamon, etc help in reduction of vata.
- Eat at regular meal times and avoid late nights.
- Exercise or walking for at least 30 minutes is recommended.
- Abhyanga, (self-oil) massage everyday with coconut oil or sesame oil followed by a hot water bath is beneficial. Other Ayurveda oils that help in pain reduction are Murivenna taila, Dhanwanntaram taila, Ashwagandha bala lakshadi taila, Tila taila, etc.
Here are some Yogasanas that one can practice to take care of their joints:
- Sukshma Vyayama – Wrist rotation, , opening and closing palm, shoulder rotation, waist rotation, knee rotation, ankle rotation, neck rotation (All rotation exercise should be done in both clockwise and anti-clockwise direction).
- Pavanamukthasana Series – Pawanmuktasana is composed of three Sanskrit words: pawan meaning ‘air’ and in Ayurvedic terms, ‘vata’ or ‘vayu’; mukta which means ‘liberation’ or ‘freedom’ and asana. A posture which releases or liberates wind or air. This pose also helps strengthen the back and massage the abdominal muscles.
- Deep, abdominal breathing. Ujjayi and Nadi Shodana Pranayama are known to gently help move natural toxins from the body.
- Trikonasana – the triangle pose helps strengthen the legs, knees, ankles, arms, and chest
- Veerabhadrasana – or the Warrior pose helps improves balance in the body and increases stamina. It also releases stress while calming the mind and helps keep the heart rate in check.
- Surya Namaskara – the 12-step Sun Salutations is a complete body workout and are known to help tone the muscles and balance the three doshas along with being relaxing and meditative. They are preferably done at sunrise.
- Dhanurasana – or the Bow pose is a deep stretch for the whole body that opens and strengthens the heart region.
- Shashankasana –the Moon or the Hare pose stretches the back muscles and separates the individual vertebrae, releasing pressure on the discs. This posture helps to relieve backaches and encourages the discs to resume their correct position.
Further reading on Ayurveda Treatment and Joint Pain:
- The efficacy of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: Cross-sectional experiential profile of a longitudinal study, Kumar P. R. Krishna, Int J Ayurveda Res. 2011 Jan-Mar; 2(1): 8–13.
- Effect of Sri Lankan traditional medicine and Ayurveda on Sandhigata Vata (osteoarthritis of knee joint). Perera PK, Perera M, Kumarasinghe N; Ayu. 2014 Oct-Dec; 35(4):411-5. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.159007.
- Efficacy & safety evaluation of Ayurvedic treatment (Ashwagandha powder & Sidh Makardhwaj) in rheumatoid arthritis patients: a pilot prospective study, Kumar G, Srivastava A, Sharma SK, Rao TD, Gupta YK; Indian J Med Res. 2015 Jan;141(1):100-6.
- Effect of anuvasana basti with ksheerabala taila in sandhigata vata (osteoarthritis), Grampurohit PL, Rao N, Harti SS; Ayu. 2014 Apr;35(2):148-51. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.146225.