Arthritis is one of the leading causes of pain and disability in the United States. This painful disease has the ability to affect any of our joints but is most commonly found in the hips and knees.
Besides pain, arthritis causes swelling and inflammation, loss of strength, and creates stiffness in the involved joints. However, the worst part about arthritis is the fact that it can stop us from doing the things that we love to do.
Luckily there are so many treatment options to help with the symptoms and impairments associated with arthritis. Joint replacements or other surgeries can replace arthritic parts of joints. Different types of injections can decrease pain and swelling and may promote improved mobility and strength. Exercise has also been found to be helpful in the management of arthritis.
Exercise and Arthritis
While exercise does not physically remove arthritis the way a joint replacement does, it can still help to improve mobility, strength, and tolerance to doing the things that you love to do.
If you are unsure about what sort of treatment options you may want to pursue, exercise is something you can do to help your pain and symptoms while you explore your options. Exercise, or physical activity in general, will also improve your overall health and wellness, improving your quality of life.
But you must keep in mind that some forms of exercise may actually cause more pain. If this is the case, follow these tips for exercising with arthritis and reach out to your doctor or physical therapist for more guidance.
Tips for Exercising with Arthritis
The number one tip for exercising with arthritis is to minimize impact. The higher the impact, the more pounding and compression to your arthritic, inflamed, and painful joints.
High impact exercise includes:
- Jogging or running;
- Strenuous hikes with a lot of hills; and
- Basketball or other related activities.
Instead of high impact activities, try low impact exercise. Low-impact activities minimize stress to the joints while promoting strength, mobility, and endurance.
Low impact exercise includes:
- Walking in the water;
- Yoga or other related activities.
Strengthen surrounding muscles
Another tip for exercising with arthritis is to focus on strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint that has arthritis. Most likely, if a joint has arthritis, the surrounding muscles are weak and are not providing adequate support to the joint.
Without adequate support, every time you try to move and use that joint the muscles are not working to create smooth movement, causing more pain and stress to go through the joint.
For example, if you have hip arthritis, each time you take a step the muscles around your hip are not strong enough to keep your pelvis aligned. This results in more stress to the joint as you limp or walk with some other compensatory movement.
The stronger your muscles are the more stable and comfortable your arthritic joint will be. A stable and comfortable joint allows you to move around and do more of what you love to do.
No matter what type of exercise you enjoy doing, you should always start with a warm-up, especially if you have arthritis.
Arthritis and painful joints tend to feel better under warm conditions. Going through a good warm-up will not only get your whole body ready for exercise, but it will warm up the stiff joints, increase blood flow, and improve its ability to perform whatever movement you are going to be completing.
Examples of movements to perform during a warm-up for an arthritic joint include:
- Pain-free, dynamic range of motion. Save the static stretching for the cool down.
- Five minutes of cardiovascular training such as walking, biking, or using the elliptical to warm up the body.
- Go through the movements that you will complete during the exercise so that you can decide if you need to modify any due to pain
Once you are done working out, end with a cool down. This allows your heart rate and breathing rate to decrease, your blood pressure to normalize, and gives you a chance to stretch.
Examples of movements to perform during a cool down for an arthritic joint include:
- Easy walking or biking to bring your vitals back down to normal.
- Comfortable soft tissue work with the use of a foam roller or similar tool.
- Static stretching too tight muscles around the involved joint, holding for at least 30 seconds.
The cooldown portion of your workout is the perfect time to work on static stretching and improving your flexibility.
Lastly, the most crucial tip in exercising with arthritis is just to start moving.
Just because you have arthritis does not mean that you cannot exercise. It merely means that you need to take some time to figure out what works best for your body. Or you may want to work with your doctor or other health care professional for assistance.
The type of exercise you decide to do should represent what you enjoy doing and activities to help you reach your goals.
Popular exercise choices for people with arthritis include:
- Weight training;
- Low impact step aerobics;
- Dance; and
- Tai Chi
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Meet Dr. Paul N. Morton, MD
Dr. Paul N. Morton, MD is a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon in hip and knee surgery, specializing in robotic joint replacements, complex joint reconstruction, sports injuries, and trauma. Reach out to him to learn more about treatment options for your problem.
Written By: Dr. Paul N. Morton, MD
Post Published on November 18, 2020