Arthritis and Exercise

May 20, 2010

Q – I have arthritis, can I still exercise?

A – I am glad to hear that you still want to exercise. Too many people try and find excuses not to exercise and arthritis pain would seem to be a good one. But in fact research shows us that a well designed exercise program can not only help to decrease your pain but also increase your joint range of motion through flexibility exercise and improve your psychological mood state.

Objectives & Exercise Recommendations For Patients with Arthritis:

1. To preserve or restore the range of motion and flexibility around each affected joint

  • If the joint is acutely inflamed then only perform gentle range of motion exercises several times per day. A therapist or trained family member can be of assistance
  • If there is no inflammation or the joint becomes less inflamed work your way up to several sets of 10 repetitions of stretching and range of motion exercises daily.
  • Listen to your body. Improper technique and/or overzealous stretching can cause negative effects to an inflamed or unstable joint

2. To increase joint stability through the increase of strength and endurance of the muscles surrounding the joint.

  • Both isometric (muscle contraction without joint movement) and isotonic (muscle contraction with joint movement) are recommended
  • Isometric exercises are a good start as you can increase your muscle strength without joint movement or adverse effects on an acutely inflamed joint. This is especially good for those who are going through a bout of joint inflammation.
  • Upper Body Isometric Exercises
    Upper Body Isometric Exercises

    Lower Body Isometric Exercises
    lower body isometic exercises

  • Isotonic exercises are recommended when strength has been increased first through isometric exercises and when pain and joint inflammation have been controlled.
  • Build up to 2 – 3 sessions per week. Low repetitions: 8 – 10. Low resistance. Low impact exercises

Isotonic Upper Body Exercises
Upper Body Isotonic Exercises

Upper Body Isotonic Exercises2

Isotonic Lower Body Exercises
lower body isotonic exercises
lower body isotonic exercises2

    3. To increase positive mental mood state, cardiovascular endurance and decrease risks of disease through aerobic activities

  • Aerobic exercise has been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for those who are not in acute flare ups.
  • Choose low impact activities, such as: walking, aqua fit (water aerobics), bicycling, swimming, low-impact dance.
  • Start off with 5 – 15 minutes of activity every other day and work your way up to near daily activity of 30 – 45 minutes duration at a moderate to somewhat hard intensity.
  • You can break up your activity throughout the day as it does not need to be done all at one time.
  • Each session should begin and end with range of motion exercises to warm up the joints prior to exercise and to cool them down afterwards
  • Footwear that is both supportive and has good shock absorption is recommended

4. To start or continue enjoyable recreational activities which will promote compliance

  • If you are doing an activity that you like you will be more likely to stick to it and receive the benefits both physically and mentally that come along with it.
  • Golfing, gentle terrain hiking, and gardening are some examples
  • The Arthritis Society, PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise), and many local Aquatic centers offer fitness classes that are geared to those with arthritis

5. Not to harm inflamed or unstable joints

  • Exercises must be performed with proper form and technique
  • Do not push past your bodies natural range of motion and abilities
  • And as always check with your doctor or physiotherapist to make sure that your activity choice is not beyond what your body can handle at that time.

Stretches for Arthritis

Neck and Shoulder Stretches
Stretches for Necks and Shoulders

Leg Stretches
Stretches for Legs

Elbow, Finger and Wrists Stretches
Stretches for elbows, fingers and wrists

*As always before beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

About the Author: Susan Manning is a BCRPA TFL, ACE, ACSM, TWIST certified Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist in BC. She is Dr. Carolyn Anderson’s co-author of It’s Never Too Late To Be Fit, a comprehensive fitness guide for older adults.

Illustrations by Greame Beamis

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