Medical experts, including professionals from the Mayo Clinic, agree that adding exercise into the treatment plan for arthritis can be greatly beneficial. In tandem with medication and other treatments, exercise can help arthritis sufferers manage pain, gain mobility, and improve overall quality of life.
According to Mayo Clinic, exercise helps arthritis sufferers because it:
- Increases strength of muscles surrounding the joints and bones
- Maintains and improves bone strength
- Boosts overall energy levels
- Wards off insomnia by supporting sleep
- Aids in weight management
- Enhances mobility and range of motion
- Elevates overall quality of life
- Improves balance to prevent falls and injuries often associated with arthritis
The key to benefiting from exercise when you suffer from arthritis is finding exercises that maximize the benefits while minimizing impact and inflammation. Joint supports can also help too, reducing inflammation through compression (like our Elbow Sleeve). The best exercises for arthritis pain fall within five main categories.
5 Styles of Exercise to Manage Arthritis Pain
Range of Motion Exercises
Range of motion exercises are fantastic for arthritis sufferers who experience pain and stiffness in a particular joint. The movements are natural to the body and generally low impact.
The goal of performing range of motion exercises is to improve or maintain the proper function of a joint. Active range of motion exercises, meaning performed by the individual with arthritis, are movements through the joints normal patterns. For example, a range of motion exercise for a knee would be to straighten and bend the knee joint without putting weight on it. This style of exercise can help strengthen the bones, tendons, and surrounding muscles to ease some of the pain of a joint stiff from arthritis. Because of the low impact and natural movements, physician therapists often recommend, or perform, range of motion exercises with their patients.
If you are inhibited in using a particular joint because of arthritis, range of motion exercises are a fantastic way to strengthen and loosen the joint to regain some of the natural range of motion. Holding a joint in one position consistently or not moving the joint enough can be detrimental to the health of the joint, even if movement is uncomfortable. In the long run, gentle movements like range of motion exercises will reduce pain, not induce it. A structured range of motion exercise program will gradually increase the stretch and range of the movement to slowly improve joint mobility over time.
A key component to reducing arthritis joint pain is to strengthen the muscles and bones surrounding the joint. Strengthening exercises help build muscle and maintain bone density by gradually putting small amounts of stress on the body. Strong muscles protect weak joints and can help to prevent injury from falls or joint overuse.
If you suffer from arthritis, you will want to start slowly with strengthening exercises to avoid injury. Isometrics are a great place to start because it is low impact and you don’t need any equipment. Isometric exercises are performed by holding a pose for a extended period of time (usually like 30 seconds to a few minutes) that contracts muscles. Examples would be a “prayer pose” where you push your hands together in front of your chest or a plank pose where you hold still in the top part of a pushup.
Once you feel comfortable with isometrics and your strength level, you can incorporate resistance to increase strength. Resistance bands and lighter free weights are a safe place to start. Even if you never progress to using resistance, isometric exercise has been linked to a range of health improvements including:
- Reduced pain for older adults
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved range of motion
Exercise disciplines that incorporate isometric exercise as part of the practice include yoga, pilates, and barre.
Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body overall. It is linked to a healthy heart, powerful lungs, strong bone density, elevated mood, and reduced joint pain. Getting the heart pumping at a higher rate improves circulation which can reduce swelling and pain in joints.
When you suffer from arthritis, however, it can feel quite daunting to jump into aerobic exercise for fear of pain or injury. You can start out with some low impact aerobic exercise that will minimize pain while still getting you into the aerobic heart rate zone. Some great options include:
- If you still feel significant discomfort while walking, consider walking on a softer surface like an outdoor track or a flat grassy field. Proper shoes can also make a big difference.
- Both outdoor traditional bikes and indoor stationary bikes are great options.
Hydro or Water Exercises
If you have arthritis and haven’t tried exercising in water, it comes highly recommended from medical professionals. Water provides the perfect environment to workout hard, without being hard on joints. The water provides resistance to increase strength while also supporting the body’s weight so movements have less impact. Not to mention, just being in water can be super soothing to sore muscles and joints.
- There is a reason swimmers have such great bodies. The water provides a low impact workout while being able to really get your heart pumping.
- Water aerobics. The water is a beautiful place for arthritis sufferers to get a solid workout. The water both reduces joint impact and increased resistance. You can build strength without the pounding of your body against the ground like in walking or running. Also this exercise is a brilliant alternative if you don’t know how to swim, but want to enjoy the water. Water aerobics can be done in the shallow end of a pool where you can easily touch the bottom.
Low Impact Exercises
The thing that all these exercises have in common in that they are low impact. The benefits of exercise for arthritis sufferers can be dwindled significantly if the exercise is too tough on the joints.
For this reason, high impact exercises should be avoided. Examples of high impact exercises that could increase arthritis pain include:
- Plyometrics (jumping) exercises.
- Stop-and-go sports like basketball, soccer, etc.