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It May Be Hard To Believe, But Exercise Can Help Relieve Arthritis Pain

Keep moving with arthritis pain

Do You Have Arthritis Pain? Exercise Can Help!

Exercise helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness.

If you have arthritis and are stuck in a rut of inactivity, it may be time to consult a physical therapist to evaluate your aches and pains. An expert PT can design an appropriate movement program for you and educate you so that you fully understand your limits and what level of exercise is best to give you results and get you active again.

Why is movement & physical activity meaningful for people with arthritis pain?

If you have arthritis, joint-friendly physical activities may actually improve arthritis pain, function, mood, and quality of life. Joint-friendly movements should be low-impact, meaning they put less stress on the body, decreasing the risk of injury.  

Joint-friendly activities can include yoga, biking, Tai Chi, and swimming. Remaining active can also delay the onset of arthritis-related disabilities and help manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

How can you increase your physical activity safely if you have arthritis pain?

Movement and exercise are crucial for people with arthritis. Consistent activity will maintain or even boost strength and flexibility, reduce joint pain, and improve symptoms of fatigue. When stiff and painful joints are already wearing you down, the prospect of even walking through a grocery store or just keeping up with the little ones can be overwhelming. You may think exercising aggravates your joint pain and stiffness, but usually, that isn’t the case.  

Lack of movement can make your joints even more painful and stiff.  

You don’t need to take on the Iron Man Challenge to relieve arthritis symptoms. Moderate exercises and activities can help ease your arthritis pain and maintain a healthy weight. 

How do I move and exercise safely with arthritis pain?

With these SMART tips, learn how to exercise and safely enjoy the benefits of increased physical activity.

  • Start low & go slow.
  • Modify activity levels. As long as arthritis symptoms and pain are present, try to stay active by modifying the types and breadth of movements.
  • Activities ought to be joint-friendly.
  • Recognize safe ways to move and be active.
  • Talk with an expert physical therapist or medical practitioner about what activities work best for your condition and your body’s needs

Start low & go slow if you have arthritis pain.

Start gradually and pay attention to how your body tolerates actions and movements when beginning or increasing physical activity levels. It may take more time for bodies with arthritis to adjust to new exercises and stresses. If you haven’t been as active, starting with small amounts of activity, for example, 3 to 5 minutes 2 times a day, is a good idea. Add new activities a bit at a time and in increments- such as 10 minutes- allowing yourself enough time for the body to adjust and adapt before adding more exercise.

Modify activity when arthritis pain and symptoms escalate- find new ways to move.  Arthritis pain and symptoms like stiffness and fatigue may come and go, and there are always good and bad days. Learn to modify movements to remain active without aggravating arthritis pain and inflammation.

Activities ought to be joint-friendly.

Choose easy activities that take it easy on the joints like yoga, walking, bicycling, or water aerobics. These each have a relatively low risk of injury and do not twist or impact the joints as much as, say, running or tennis.

Recognize safe ways to move and get active if you have arthritis pain.

Safety is vital for beginning and maintaining any exercise plan. If you have been fairly inactive or are unsure how to start your physical activity program, being evaluated by a trained physical therapist to create an appropriate exercise plan is a great option. If you plan and manage your activities on your own, find safe places to be active. As an example, walk and bike in areas where the sidewalks or pathways are level, obstruction-free, well-lit, and away from heavy traffic.

Talk with an expert physical therapist or medical practitioner about what activities work best with arthritis pain for your condition and your body’s needs.

An experienced physical therapist is a reliable source of information about physical activity and what is right for your body. PT’s and health care professionals will answer questions about how much and what types of activities best match your abilities and health goals.

What types of activities are appropriate if you have arthritis pain?

An easy measure of the relative intensity of your activity is the ‘talk test.’ Generally, you should be able to talk but not sing during moderate exercise. During vigorous activity, you will likely not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.  

How hard are you working?

An easy measure of the relative intensity of your activity is the ‘talk test.’ Generally, you should be able to talk but not sing during moderate exercise. During vigorous activity, you will likely not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.  

Low-impact activities should not place stress on joints; try brisk walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics or water walking, light gardening, group exercise classes, and even dancing can help alleviate symptoms- particularly long term.

For significant health benefits each week:

  • Two to three hours of light to moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like leisurely cycling and flowing yoga, or
  • 60 – 90 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like swimming or group exercises. It’s always a great option to mix it up and enjoy a combination of lower and more vigorous exercises. A standard rule of thumb: 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity movement.

 

In addition to aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups are incredibly beneficial to do two or more days a week. It is recommended that before beginning new exercise regimens, adults consult with a physical therapist or health care professional.

Muscle-strengthening exercises can include weight lifting, resistance band exercises, and yoga. The fantastic thing about these is that most of these can be done at home, in addition to exercise classes, or at a workout facility.

 

Activities that focus on balance- like stretching and yoga, are also crucial for people with arthritis.  

Adults with arthritis pain often have joint stiffness, making daily tasks challenging. Daily flexibility stretches and exercises help maintain range of motion so you can keep doing everyday things like vacuuming, yard work, and enjoying time with loved ones.

Balance work- walking backward, balancing on one foot, or tai chi- is essential for those who risk falling or have trouble walking. Balance exercises should be a routine three days a week- or more- if you are at higher risk for falls. Balance exercises are often a component of many group exercise classes geared toward adult populations.

What if I have arthritis pain or swelling during or after exercise?

It’s not abnormal to have a degree of discomfort, stiffness, and swelling when beginning new physical activities. It can take time for the body and joints to acclimate to your recent activity levels, but sticking with an activity regimen should result in long-term arthritis pain relief.

Here are tips for managing pain during and after physical activity so you can keep exercising:

  • Until pain levels improve, modify physical activities by exercising less frequently and for shorter periods as needed. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments- healing isn’t usually a linear process!
  • Try a different style of exercise that places less pressure on joints—for example, change from walking to water aerobics- this is a terrific adjustment when the weather begins to cool or is very hot.
  • Warm-up and cool down thoroughly both before and after activity. Stretch and breathe.
  • Exercise at a comfortable pace—you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.
  • Make sure you have good-fitting, comfortable, and quality shoes.

See a physical therapist or health professional if you notice any of the following:

  • Pain that is sharp, constant, or stabbing. This is not normal.
  • Pain that changes the way that you walk or inhibits movement.
  • Acute pain that extends more than 2 hours after exercise or gets worse at night. If arthritis pain affects sleep, it’s time to see a medical professional.
  • Significant increase of swelling or your joints feel hot to the touch or are red.

When arthritis pain threatens the quality of your life, exercise helps keep you moving. The expert physical therapists at Healthy Consumer Physical Therapy can help you find what works for you to relieve painful arthritis symptoms. What are you waiting for? Give us a call for a free no-obligation consultation to get back on the path to pain-free living.

Chris S
AUTHOR

Dr. Chris Sovey

Healthy Consumer PT

"We Help Adults 40+ Living With Pain, Stiffness, Or Loose Joints Get Healthy, Age Stronger, And Get Back To The Activities They Love, Even If Past Treatments Have Failed"

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