Do You Have Arthritis? Why and How You Should Exercise

Do You Have Arthritis? Why and How You Should Exercise

If you have pain and inflammation in your joints that make it difficult to move or be active, you're probably living with arthritis, a common disorder that affects the joints. Arthritis doesn't have to put you on the sidelines — you can exercise with arthritis, continue enjoying your active life, and manage the pain and inflammation. 

The term arthritis is a blanket term used to describe conditions that cause inflammation in the joints. The arthritis umbrella covers several types of the disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout. 

How Arthritis Affects Your Body

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that results from the body's immune system attacking the cartilage that lines our joints. It can cause redness of the skin over the affected joint, swelling, breakdown of the cartilage, and erosion of the bone. It reduces the ability of the affected joints to move smoothly. 

Whenever the function of your joints is compromised, it can impact your ability to move. Arthritis will take up residence in any joint, but it especially favors these areas:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Spine, especially the lower back

The symptoms of arthritis can range from mild to severe, but it is readily recognized as pain and discomfort in the joints. The discomfort may be constant, or it can come and go. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the joint region
  • Visible redness
  • Stiffness that can severely limit mobility
  • Swelling around the joint
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Palpable warmth at the joint location
  • Generalized muscle aches
  • Increased stiffness in the morning
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced tolerance for changes in environmental temperatures

One of the best defenses against the mobility limitations of arthritis is exercise with arthritis in mind. Read on to learn why an arthritis workout is beneficial.

Why Exercise Is Good for Those with Arthritis

A regular exercise routine increases strength and flexibility in the joints, reduces joint pain, and helps prevent fatigue. When you're stiff and your joints are hurting, you don't feel like running a marathon, but even a moderate arthritis workout can help. Mild exercise can lessen your pain and help you maintain your level of mobility.

Specifically, the benefits of exercise in staving off the symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Helps in maintaining bone strength
  • Strengthens the muscles that surround and support your joints
  • May increase your energy levels
  • Helps you get a good night's sleep
  • Improve your balance
  • May help you manage your weight
  • Enhance your quality of life

It seems like exercise would only aggravate your joint pain and exacerbate the stiffness arthritis causes, but the opposite is the reality. Lack of exercise makes your joints stiffer and more painful. 

A cautionary note: As always, check with your primary healthcare provider about an exercise plan before you begin. This will ensure your plan is the best for your specific condition. Your healthcare provider can also discuss your options regarding pain management for your arthritis.

Which Exercises for Arthritis Are Best?

Don't be surprised if your primary healthcare provider refers you to a physical therapist who will work with you to create your individualized exercise plan and recommend specific types of exercise to target problems that can occur with arthritis. 

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion (ROM) exercises help maintain and increase the level of mobility in your joints. These exercises relieve stiffness while working through a joint's full range of motion. Examples:

  • Rolling your shoulders backward and forward
  • Raising your arms over your head, with or without small weights
  • Head tilts, forward and back, then side to side

Exercises to Improve Muscle Strength

The muscle-strengthening exercises included in your arthritis workout plan should involve all the major muscle groups and be done two or more days each week. These can be done at home, in an exercise class, at a fitness center, or with a personal trainer or physical therapist. Examples:

  • Weightlifting
  • Work with resistance bands
  • Yoga

Flexibility Exercises

The joint stiffness that goes with arthritis can make daily tasks difficult. Doing daily flexibility exercises can help you retain the ability to do those everyday things and maintain the range of motion in your joints. Examples:

  • Hamstring stretches
  • Calf stretches
  • Yoga

Balance Exercises

These exercises are especially beneficial to those at risk of falling or having difficulty walking. Balance exercises can be done at home but are also included in many group exercise classes. Examples:

  • Walking backward
  • Standing on one foot
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga

Exercises to Improve Endurance

To improve your muscles' endurance, include exercises designed to increase the total time a muscle is contracted. Examples:

  • Plank is a difficult exercise so you'll need to work your way up to holding the position for 30 to 45 seconds
  • Bodyweight squats
  • Walking lunges
  • Pushups
  • Crunches

Low Impact Exercises

This type of exercise doesn't put stress on the joints. Examples:

  • Cycling
  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Light gardening
  • Dancing
  • Group exercise classes

Now that you know the exercises that work best with arthritis, you can turn your attention to starting your own exercise plan.

How To Start Exercising with Arthritis

To exercise with arthritis, you'll need to start slow and focus on low-impact, joint-friendly exercises. If your arthritis flares up, stop doing that exercise for a bit. If you experience another flare-up when you re-incorporate the exercise into your plan, it's time to consider replacing that exercise with another that doesn't exacerbate your arthritis.

Remember not to push yourself too hard when you're just beginning. If you overwork your muscles, you'll only worsen your joint pain. Consider these tips for getting started:

  • Stationary or recumbent bicycles or elliptical trainers are all low-impact and a good way to get started. 
  • Before you begin, apply heat to relax your joints and muscles and relieve any pain you're having.
  • Do slow range of motion exercises for five to ten minutes to warm up your joints before moving on to other exercise types.
  • Slow and easy is the way to go in the beginning. If you feel pain, take a break and move on to another exercise when you resume your workout. 
  • Treat your joints to an ice pack for up to 20 minutes after you've finished. 

And don't forget to enjoy yourself!

Start Your Arthritis Workout Journey

There you have it —r the why and the how of exercise with arthritis. You can find a plethora of further information in the Articles section of Tiger Fitness, including free workout plans! 

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