Nearly 59 million adults in the United States have arthritis and close to half of those diagnosed are unable to do everyday activities because of their arthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused by inflammation of the joints and usually comes with age and is most common in the fingers, hips, and knees. Sometimes, it is followed by a joint injury from our youth, and years later, the fall that we took, is now arthritis. However, arthritis affects working-age adults, older adults, and even children.
According to the CDC one in three adults with arthritis are not physically active, have poor health, and have severe joint pain. Living with this type of pain impacts the ability to move and perform daily tasks and even limits social and work functions. While we may not be able to prevent arthritis entirely, we can work to relieve the pain and stiffness that limit activities. That is why exercise is crucial for people with arthritis. Even basic exercises increase strength and flexibility and reduce joint pain. It does seem counterintuitive to go for a walk when you are having knee or hip pain, but moderate, low-impact exercise can ease your joint pain.
Exercise can strengthen the muscles around the joints, maintain bone strength, provide energy, improve balance, and help control weight. Lack of exercise makes joints even more painful and stiff than exercising. When we don’t exercise, our muscles weaken and that creates more stress on our joints. Before starting a new exercise routine, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes that provide the support you need without the risk of injury.
Range of motion exercises, such as raising your arms above your head and rolling your shoulders forward and backward, should be done daily to relieve stiffness. Yoga and stretching also improve your range of motion and improves your day-to-day life.
Strengthening exercises, including lifting weights, yoga, and resistance bands, help build strong muscles that help support and protect your joints. However, you should avoid exercising the same muscle groups two days in a row. So, you can do arms one day and legs the next day. Take an extra day or two between workouts if your joints are painful or swollen.
Aerobic exercise helps build endurance and improves overall fitness by improving cardiovascular health, controlling weight, and improving stamina. Exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming for up to 150 minutes each week can improve your joints. You can break it up into 10-minute blocks of time if that’s easier than 30 minutes five times per week. With dedication, you can increase your stamina so you can move up to 30 or more minutes of aerobic exercise at a time. We are all busy, so daily activities like mowing the grass, raking leaves, and walking the dog do count!
In pain before you even start? Applying heat to joints and muscles can help relieve pain before you begin your workout.
In pain after the workout? Apply ice to your joints for up to 20 minutes as needed after your workout, especially if certain activities cause joint swelling. Taking ibuprofen can reduce pain and swelling. Acetaminophen can reduce pain also. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for your joints to get used to your new activity level, but sticking with your activity program will result in long-term pain relief.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, ask your doctor if you should exercise during general or local flares. One option is to work through your joint flares by doing only range-of-motion exercises, just to keep your body moving, or exercising in water to cushion your joints.
If you have concerns about the right exercises for you, talk to your doctor or work with a physical therapist to create a plan that provides the most benefit to help relieve your pain.