Best Exercises for Arthritis Pain

We all know that exercise is important for our health and well-being. This is especially true for those who suffer from osteoarthritis.

You may think that exercise causes further damage to your painful joints. The exact opposite is true. A therapeutic exercise program can help to relieve pain. It also strengthens the muscles that are designed to protect your joints.

Understanding Osteoarthritis

If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), you are not alone. This condition affects almost 27 million Americans. OA is a joint condition that can (and will) worsen over time.

Normal joints have a strong, rubbery material known as cartilage that covers the end of each bone. The smooth surface of cartilage cushions the bones and allows for easier movement. Those who suffer from OA experience a breakdown of this protective cartilage. As it deteriorates, bits of bone or cartilage break off and float around the joint. This causes joint inflammation and further damage. Those in the final stages of OA can lose this protective cartilage completely.

OA can affect any joint of the body. But, it commonly occurs in the hips, lower back, neck, knees, fingers, and toes.

Symptoms of OA include stiffness and pain, especially after a long period of rest or in the morning. Extended activity may cause the affected joints to swell. In addition, those with OA may experience difficulty moving. Some people may also hear clicking or cracking sounds when the joint bends. As OA progresses, daily activities become more painful and difficult to execute.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

There are usually a variety of factors that contribute to OA including:

  • Family History: Certain inherited traits make you more likely to develop OA. This can be because the body does not produce enough collagen—a protein in cartilage. Others have slight defects in their bones that cause the cartilage to wear away faster. If a parent or close family member has a history of OA, then you may be at a higher risk of developing this condition.
  • Excessive Weight: Extra body fat puts added pressure on the joints. Also, some studies suggest that excess fat releases chemicals that encourage further joint breakdown.
  • Overuse of the Joints: Repetitive movements by athletes or those who have physically demanding careers run a greater risk of developing OA.
  • Injury: Those with a history of bone fractures, ligament tears, or surgery may have imbalances in the muscles that support the joints.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions like kidney failure, diabetes, or problems with the thyroid may increase the risk of OA.

Some factors of OA are out of your control. Regular exercise and losing excess weight can prevent or slow down the progression of OA.

How Can Exercise Help with Osteoarthritis?

Exercise provides many benefits for people with and without OA. Those who exercise regularly can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions. In addition, exercise improves your mood, helps you sleep better, and decreases stress. Since stress often causes the body to tense up even more, chronic stress actually makes OA symptoms worse.

A therapeutic exercise program is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for reducing OA symptoms.

Exercise reduces your OA symptoms by:

  • Preserving and restoring joint flexibility
  • Increasing muscle strength and endurance
  • Encouraging weight loss to put less stress on the joints
  • Decreasing the health risks of an inactive lifestyle

What are the Best Exercises for Arthritis Pain?

Before starting any new exercise routine, it is important to consult with your doctor. After diagnosing the severity of your condition, he or she can suggest the most appropriate exercises for relieving pain and preserving the joints. You may be referred to a physical therapist or sports medicine specialist to develop an individualized therapeutic exercise program.

There are four types of exercises recommended for individuals with arthritis:

Flexibility Exercises

Stretching routines are a great way to prevent further injury to the joint. These exercises increase range of motion and help promote relaxation. You could do stretching exercises daily as well as before and after other exercise routines.

Activities like yoga incorporate stretching, breathing exercises, and attention to the relationship between the mind and body. Many yoga poses can be modified based on your abilities. In addition to improving physical symptoms, yoga can help also reduce psychological symptoms. Those who practice yoga regularly often feel more connected and accepting of their bodies, less stressed, and have an easier time falling asleep at night.

Those who have arthritis have also found tai chi, qi gong, and pilates beneficial for managing their physical and mental symptoms.

Strength Training & Resistance Exercises

Building muscle helps to reduce the stress placed on arthritic joints. In addition, strong muscles act as a shock absorber to protect the joints. A supervised strength training program is a great way to build muscles and improve the body’s overall strength.

Hand-held weights, resistance bands, or weight machines used during prescribed exercises will strengthen your weaker muscles groups. Before you start reaching for those heavy weights, however, make sure that you’re not overdoing it. Heavy lifting or inappropriate exercises can do more harm than good.

Seek the guidance of a trainer or physical therapist familiar with the unique needs of those who suffer from arthritis.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise uses your larger muscle groups to make the heart and lungs more efficient. These exercises improve endurance and stamina, giving you more energy throughout the day. In addition, aerobic exercise is great for burning calories and helps you to lose excess weight.

To protect your joints, choose low impact aerobic exercises such as swimming, stationary cycling, or an elliptical machine. Water aerobics performed in warm water or therapeutic pools also helps those with osteoarthritis. Water supports the body’s weight, but still provides a rigorous workout. In fact, movements in the water provide up to 12 times the resistance of exercising outside of the pool.

Recreational Activities

Some people don’t like working out. They know they should, especially if it helps their arthritis pain, but it isn’t fun for them. By incorporating enjoyable physical activities into your daily routine, you will be more motivated to stick with your exercises.

Though this shouldn’t be a replacement for the other types of exercises mentioned, low impact recreational activities are a great supplement for your routines. Walking, hiking, cycling, golfing, and gardening can be a fun, beneficial way to treat your arthritis.

Tips for Exercising with Arthritis

You want to stay safe but still get the most out of your exercise routines. These tips will help:

  • Don’t skip the warm-up. Those with arthritis need more time to stretch and warm up their muscles. Before performing any exercise routine, make sure to spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching, walking, or doing other warm-ups.
  • Use heat on sore joints before exercising. Like stretching, applying heat to your joints before exercise greatly reduces stiffness and the likelihood of a muscle or joint injury.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel pain during your workouts, exercising through it may only cause more harm. Consult with your trainer to see if there are any modifications or alternatives to painful exercises.
  • Take extra time to cool down. Just like warming up, allow extra time to cool down. Slowing down your physical activity for a brief period and stretching works great. In addition, if you feel any pain or swelling, ice the area after workouts.
  • Allow time for rest. Even if you feel the benefits of regular exercise, you want to incorporate some periods of rest so you don’t overwork the muscles and joints.
  • Supplement your exercise with a healthy diet. Choosing healthy foods gives your body the nutrients to build muscle and decrease inflammation. In addition, avoiding high-calorie junk foods helps to shed those extra pounds.

Seeking Treatment for Your Arthritic Pain

When your arthritic pain prevents you from doing the things you love, getting help from qualified professionals can get back to living the life you desire. The Advanced Spine Center specializes in nonsurgical and surgical treatments to help manage your pain.

With over six decades of combined experience, our multidisciplinary team will help diagnosis and treat your arthritic pain using scientifically proven therapies. A simple consultation with our experts at The Advanced Spine Center could forever change the way you live your life.