If you or someone you know has arthritis, regular exercise is vital. Arthritis doesn’t only affect joints but supporting muscles as well. Without exercise strength and flexibility wane while fatigue and depression set in. As the pain becomes a constant companion with activity, it seems counterproductive and overwhelming to exercise, take a dip in the pool, or go for a walk.
The truth is though, it takes exercise to increase strength and flexibility. Exercise is the number one remedy for reducing pain, increasing mobility, and countering the pain associated with arthritis. When stiff joints and pain have you down it’s easy to think of any physical activity as something for athletes.
However, you don’t need to be a marathon runner or bodybuilder at the gym to significantly reduce the pain. Light to moderate exercise 30 minutes to an hour a few times a week will:
- Reduce pain
- Keep your joints flexible and mobile
- Help maintain a healthy weight
- Make you feel better
Why Exercise Is Essential
- The constant soreness, pain, and caution not to disturb it takes a toll on moods and attitudes. Exercise is essential to staying active, reducing the pain, and continuing on with your lifestyle.
- Arthritis affects joints, but joints can’t stand alone. They depend on muscles, tendons, and ligaments to support and hold them together. The wearing away of the cartilage throws the skeletal system and muscles out of line, causing muscle pain and tendonitis around the affected joints.
- Physical activity will build and maintain strength and health in all the surrounding muscle groups. Exercise stops muscle deterioration and atrophy. Keeping the muscles strong will increase mobility, reduce pain, and can help decrease further bone loss.
- Not using the joints causes a lack of synovial fluid that lubricates the joints. The longer you go without using it, the less lubrication so that when you do move it, it’s dry and painful. Physical activity lubricates the joint to reduce both the stiffness and pain.
- Regular exercise increases energy, endurance, strength, resilience, range of motion, flexibility, improves sleep and helps you maintain your weight.
Living the LifeStyle You Love With Arthritis
Even with arthritis in my knees, I’m able to continue the daily activities that make up my life and lifestyle — thanks to a regular exercise program. In fact: Once I started exercising on a daily basis my joints have stopped deteriorating at the same pace as before.
The following information in this post is what I’ve learned about what does help me stay active with arthritis without constant pain and soreness in my knees.
3 Main Exercises for Arthritis
I’ve found that I need a balanced exercise program that consists of range of motion, strengthening, and endurance exercises. I’ll try to explain each below and how to get the most out of them, without injuring yourself.
1. Range of Motion or ROM exercises.
No matter what you hear and read, with arthritis, especially in your knees, it seems easier to sit still and move as little as possible, doesn’t it? But the less you move, the more the joints and muscles and tendons that help them operate stiffen up. The less exercise you get, the stiffer you get!
ROM exercises help you reduce the stiffness and keep your joints flexible. Physical therapists help with ROM, but the best way to avoid your knees and hips from “freezing up” is to keep yourself active with exercise. Check out these tips and exercises for knee arthritis.
2. Strengthening Exercise
You’ll avoid a lot of pain by keeping strong. Increase the strength around your knees and hips to keep them stable and more comfortable. Read this article about knee sleeves and arthritis to add support and stability to knees with arthritis.
There are two primary methods of strengthening exercises for people with arthritis:
- Isometric exercises that strengthen and tighten muscles without moving the joints. One way to do isometric exercises is by tightening and releasing the muscles. You can try tightening the large muscle at the front of your thigh and releasing, and then your butt muscles. Next, tighten your calf muscles and release them. As you sit in a chair do each leg 10 times and work up to 3 sets of 15 times.
- Isotonic exercises are when you are moving joints to strengthen muscles. This is when you are constantly shortening a muscle or muscle set with a load, such as lifting a weight over and over again. Unless you’re into bodybuilding, you don’t need to lift much weight for effectiveness when it comes to arthritis. Just using 2 or 3 lb weights will get the job done.
3. Endurance Exercises
Endurance exercises are often thought of as a means to strengthen the heart but are great ROM exercises for arthritis. Improve your range of motion, stamina, stay flexible, healthy and pain-free with exercises that include:
- Jogging (running)
- Water exercises
- Riding a stationary bike
Getting Started With Exercise for Arthritis
- Check with your physician before starting any exercise program.
- If you haven’t been getting any exercise, start out with flexibility and strengthening exercises and no endurance exercises. Slowly work endurance exercises into the regime. Try starting out with 5 minutes 2 or three times a day, work up to 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day, before moving on to more vigorous endurance training.
- Pick specific times of the day to exercise, and try different times to find out which works out best for you.
- Do not do your exercises immediately after a meal. If you do them just before bed, you may find that it interferes with your sleep?
- Do ROM exercises every day, and shoot for endurance training every other day. Schedule both types, because both are important for different reasons.
Tips To Get The Most From Exercise
Before you start
- Apply heat to arthritic joints for 15 minutes. Using hot towels or a heating pad on your knees before exercising will help lengthen and make muscles and tendons limber and flexible. This will help reduce soreness from your workouts.
- Wear comfortable clothing that allows freedom of movement without binding.
- Warm-up slowly.
As you exercise
- Don’t get carried away with yourself. Go at a comfortable and steady pace. Remember you’re not a bodybuilder, just wanting some relief from arthritis.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Breathe out as you tense muscles and in as you relax.
- Use this two-hour rule to stay safe: If your muscles or joints hurt from the exertion for two hours after exercising, you’ve done too much and/or go too fast. You need the exercise for arthritis, so just relax, slow down, don’t overdo it, and don’t go so fast.
- If you feel chest pain, dizziness, severe shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, or sickness, STOP exercising!
- Go slow and get a feel for how your own body reacts to exercise. Some increased heart rate, faster breathing, and tense muscles are part of exercising. So, be alert and focused as your body and mind adapt to your new exercise program.
After your exercise
Don’t go from all-out to a dead stop! Gradually slow down the pace to let your body relax from the work and then spend a few minutes doing some very gentle stretching.
Knee stretches and exercises encourage flexibility of the joint itself and the surrounding muscles and tendons. Knee strengthening exercises and a good knee sleeve for arthritis will help build muscle tissue in all the muscles that support the knee.