Starting a regular fitness program is a vital step toward taking control of your arthritis.
With the right kind of exercise, you can alleviate or even prevent joint pain while staying limber and healthy. Most experts agree that regular, moderate exercise greatly improves joint flexibility and helps relieve pain and stiffness for people with arthritis. You’ll have better range of motion, find everyday chores easier, and may even sleep better.
Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program to make sure the activities you choose are right for you. Pursue low- or no-impact aerobic exercises such as swimming, walking, or cycling, as well as resistance exercises such as weight training and range of motion exercises. This will help strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding your joints and help keep them flexible.
Here are some tips that will help:
- Choose low-impact activities you enjoy—such as walking, bicycling, or swimming—that don't place too much stress on the joints. Avoid high-impact activities which require jumping.
- Alternate among a variety of activities to keep from getting bored. You'll be more likely to stick with a fun, varied routine.
- With your doctor's approval, do aerobic activities for 20 minutes at least 3 times per week and increase the duration of your workouts gradually.
- Exercise with a friend. You'll have a chance to socialize and will have someone to offer you support and motivation.
- Try walking; it's easy, can be done indoors or outdoors, and does not require special equipment.
- Always cool down after exercising with a few minutes of slow-paced aerobic exercise and range-of-motion exercises.
- After exercising, ice your joints to prevent swelling. This will reduce discomfort and help prevent further joint pain and injury.
Perform stretching and range of motion exercises as often as you can. Here are some exercises you might find helpful.
Standing with your arms straight and close to your body, roll your shoulders forward 10 times, then back 10 times. Helps with shoulder joint pain.
Side bends. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and tummy tucked in. Reach your right arm up and over your head to the left side, sliding your left arm down your left leg to your knee. Let your body lean into the stretch. (If you feel any pain, you’re reaching too far.) Hold for a count of 10 before returning to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Helps with hip joint pain and elbow joint pain.
Stand behind and slightly to the right of a sturdy chair. With knees slightly bent and your left hand on the chair for support, slowly swing your right leg forward and then back, keeping your back straight and trying not to arch your spine. Repeat 10 times. Move to the left side of the chair and repeat 10 times with your left leg. Helps with hip joint pain.
Trunk rotation. Lying flat on your back with your knees bent, slowly rock both legs to the left toward the ground. Hold for a count of 10, then slowly return your legs to their original position. Do the same movement to the right. Repeat 5 times on each side, alternating to the right and left sides. Helps with hip joint pain.
Lie flat with your knees straight and legs far apart. Roll your feet and knees toward each other so you’re pigeon-toed, then roll them out. Helps with hip joint pain.
Sitting at the edge of a chair or bed, straighten your left leg out in front of you and rest your heel on the floor or a small stool. Sit up straight, then gently bend forward at the hips until you feel a gentle stretch on the back of your left leg. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing normally. Sit up slowly and repeat on the right. Helps with leg joint pain and knee joint pain.
Lying on your right side, take hold of your left ankle with your left hand. If this is too difficult, loop a belt or towel around your ankle and hold onto that. Pull your left foot toward your buttocks until you feel a gentle stretch on the front of your thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing normally. Roll to your left side and repeat with the right leg. Helps with leg join paint and knee joint pain.
People with rheumatoid arthritis often experience pain and stiffness in their finger joints. The following exercises can help keep hands and fingers flexible.
Hand stretch #1.
Hold your hand out, palm facing upward, and stretch your wrist, fingers, and thumb upward. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
Hand stretch #2.
Hold your hand out, palm facing upward, with your fingers spread out. Bend your fingers inward until they touch the palm of your hand. Hold for 5 seconds. Do this twice on each hand.
Hand stretch #3.
Hold your hand out, palm facing upward, with your knuckles straight. Slowly spread your fingers as far apart as you can. Hold for 5 seconds, then gently bring your fingers together into a fist and hold that position for 5 seconds. Do this twice on each hand.
Checklist for a Safe Workout:
- Consult your physician or other health professional before beginning an exercise program.
- Never hold your breath during exercise. Breathe deeply and regularly.
- Stop exercising immediately if you feel sharp pain or if you become dizzy, nauseated, or short of breath.
- Start slowly and gradually increase the length and difficulty of your workout. This may take several months, but eventually you'll be able to feel improvement in your strength and flexibility.
- Avoid quick, jerky movements. Smooth, gentle movements are easier on your joints and get better results.
- Take frequent breaks between exercises.
- Drink plenty of cool water when you're exercising, especially on hot days.
- Moderate exercise should not cause pain. If pain does occur and if it persists for more than two hours after exercising, call a health professional.
- Stop exercising if your body tells you you've had enough, but remember to cool down before stopping completely.
- For minor arthritis pain or muscle aches, an over-the-counter pain reliever may be helpful. However, read the package label first and follow the directions carefully. If your discomfort is not relieved by an over-the-counter remedy, or if you are taking prescription medications for any reason, consult a health professional.