How Does Yoga Benefit Musculoskeletal Disorders?

November 14, 2023
How Does Yoga Benefit Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Yoga may increase muscle strength and decrease muscle pain

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Does yoga benefit those experiencing musculoskeletal disorders?

Type of Study

Narrative review study


Researchers reviewed previously published research on the topic of yoga and musculoskeletal disorders, with a particular focus on studies on inflammatory myositis and muscular dystrophies.


The research found few published studies on yoga and its benefits on musculoskeletal disorders. The limited studies reported preliminary associations between yoga practice and increased muscle strength, improved respiratory function, and improved heart rate variability among these populations. Studies that reported generally on the effects of yoga on the musculoskeletal system found that yoga was associated with many benefits including: increased strength, flexibility, and balance, as well as decreased pain and fatigue.


Yoga may reduce pain, improve muscle function, and increase muscle strength for those with some musculoskeletal disorders. However, more research is necessary to fully understand what benefits yoga provides to these populations.

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Musculoskeletal disorders are a complex and varied group of issues. They include categories such as idiopathic inflammatory myopathies, muscular dystrophies, and other types. These disorders can affect many different systems in the body as they progress. They are commonly long-term disorders that patients must treat over many years. And, they have a variety of chronic, challenging-to-manage symptoms. For those reasons, identifying treatments has been challenging as well.

Pharmaceutical treatments, specifically corticosteroids, are common. However, they have both short-term and long-term side effects. Some types of exercise and physical therapy treatments have been helpful. However, many of those require patients to travel to see a physical therapist in person. The research team on the study summarized here was interested in whether yoga practice could reduce some of the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders. They were also interested in whether compliance with yoga might be greater than other physical therapies as it can be done at home, rather than requiring an in-person visit with a physical therapist.

Research question

Does yoga benefit those experiencing musculoskeletal disorders?

Research methods

In this narrative review study, the research team searched all previously published research on the topic of yoga and musculoskeletal disorders. Their intent was to review the results of previous smaller studies to see if they could discern trends in those results. Their primary search terms were “yoga + myositis” and “yoga + muscle.” They also conducted a broader search using some additional related search terms. Those included “yoga + cardiovascular,” “yoga + musculoskeletal system,” and “yoga + benefits on mental health.” They also searched for yoga plus the word pain, immune, or arthritis.


Effects of yoga on musculoskeletal disorders

The research team found only one study on the effects of yoga on inflammatory myositis. They found only four studies on the effects of yoga on muscular dystrophies. Therefore they formed only a very preliminary understanding of what the benefit of yoga on these musculoskeletal disorders is. While muscle strength increased after eight weeks of yoga in the study on yoga and myositis, the sample size was too small to ascertain whether that difference was meaningful. When muscular dystrophy patients practiced yoga along with pharmaceutical treatments, studies found improved respiratory function and heart rate variability. Other research studies found that yoga was associated with decreased pain in rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, which suggests the same might be true for inflammatory myositis and muscular dystrophies.

Effects of yoga on the muscular system and other related benefits

When researchers broadened their search terms, they found 113 studies that related generally to the effects of yoga on the cardiovascular system, the musculoskeletal system, and the benefits of yoga for mental health.

Studies reported benefits of yoga on the musculature that included:

  • Increased muscle torque
  • Improved muscle dexterity
  • Decreased muscle pain and soreness
  • Decreased muscle fatigue
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased balance
  • Increased muscle strength

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

Aging is inevitable for all of us. As we age, we are more likely to experience many different kinds of health and wellness issues, including various types of musculoskeletal disorders. Identifying treatments like yoga that can support improved quality of life by addressing some of the potentially debilitating symptoms of these disorders is important. Research on the effects of yoga on these types of disorders is really just beginning. However, the initial findings are promising.

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Yoga is associated with benefits such as reduced musculoskeletal pain, anti-inflammatory effects, increased muscle strength, and better maintenance of bone density. More research is needed to ascertain whether these benefits would occur in patients with various types of musculoskeletal disorders such as myositis or muscular dystrophies.

Reference citation

Saud, A., M. Abbasi, H. Merris, P. Parth, X. M. Jones, R. Aggarwal, L. Gupta. 2022. Harnessing the benefits of yoga for myositis, muscle dystrophies, and other musculoskeletal disorders. Clinical Rheumatology. 41:3285-3297.