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Exercising can be beneficial for patients with arthritis. This article outlines the 6 different types of exercises that are especially helpful in easing pain and improving joint function.

Arthritis is a condition characterized by joint inflammation, swelling, and pain. The main treatment includes medication to help relieve pain, physical therapy, and — in extreme cases — surgery. Arthritis patients often think that they should not exercise in order to protect their joints. However, that is actually a detrimental way of thinking. In fact, the right types of exercise can help ease joint pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue.

Studies have shown that regular exercise can help improve joint pain and other symptoms associated with arthritis. Additionally, patients experience improved daily functioning, decreased levels of depression, improved energy levels and better sleep. Patients who engage in physical exercise experience an overall increase in wellbeing. These are the six exercises you can do to help ease joint pain, swelling and stiffness.

1. Walking

This is the easiest of all exercises, as you can do it whenever you want, wherever you want. The major benefit of walking is that it is easy on sore joints. Furthermore, you can increase your walking pace as time goes on. These are the benefits of walking:

  • One study showed that patients that had a walking regimen three to four times a week experienced improved well-being and self-efficacy compared to the control group of patients who did not take part in the walking regimen.
  • Another benefit of walking is weight loss, which is known to help ease pain and stress on joints, and thus improves arthritis symptoms.
  • Walking promotes cardiovascular health, which is important as some subtypes, including the common subtype rheumatoid arthritis, have increased risk of heart disease.

2. Swimming

Doctors often recommend swimming for patients with arthritis as exercising in the water is easier for your joints. The water is a good place to be able to stretch your muscles and soothe your joints. You can either swim laps or try a water aerobics class. These are the benefits of swimming:

  • One study showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who participated in 16 weeks of water-based exercises experienced significant improvement in their joint pain and reduced disease activity when compared to patients who did non-water related exercises.
  • Swimming is another great way of losing weight, which, again, helps improve joint function and reduce pain.
  • Swimming has been shown to improve patient’s mood.
  • Swimming helps improve sleep.

3. Strength training

While you may think that strength training is detrimental to the health of your joints, in fact, the stronger your muscles are, the less strain there is on your joints. Thus, it is important to not be afraid to use weights as it helps improve your muscle mass and get stronger. These are the benefits of strength training:

  • One study found that resistance training that got progressively more intensive over a six-week period led to improved outcomes for arthritis patients.
  • Improved joint function, as the muscles around the arthritic joint are stronger.

4. Cycling

Cycling is a great exercise for patients with arthritis as the smoother motion of cycling (compared to running or jogging) minimizes any adverse effects on the joints such as jolting. Cycling may not be for everyone, however, as some people with arthritis have involvement of joints of the hand, which can cause problems gripping the bike handle. Furthermore, cycling helps improve your cardiovascular fitness, and therefore, can help condition your body for other exercises.

5. Yoga and Tai Chi

Yoga and tai chi help improve coordination, balance and awareness of position, which leads to a lower risk of falling, which is often a problem in patients with arthritis. Furthermore, yoga and tai chi help improve joint flexibility, range-of-motion exercises, joint flexibility and joint function. Additionally, another way to improve balance is by doing exercises like walking backwards and standing on one foot. These help reduce the risk of falls.

6. Pilates

Pilates are a type of exercise that is focused on improving the strength and control of muscles. Hence, Pilates are a low-impact workout that is easy on the joints. These are the benefits of Pilates:

  • One study found that children with arthritis who participated in Pilates for a period of six months experienced a significant reduction in joint pain compared to other exercises.
  • Pilates helps manage pain as well as other symptoms of arthritis.
  • Pilates is a type of exercise that eases pressure on the hips, compared to other traditional exercises.

Conclusion

While these are six great exercises, you can also follow your own regimen as long as you discuss your plans with your doctor beforehand and make sure the exercises are not detrimental to your joint health. Even simple house-hold activities like cleaning your house, pulling weeds and raking leaves count as exercises that can help improve your condition.

It is important to take time and rest between exercise. Listen to your body and if a particular type of exercise is causing pain then stop and try something else. If you are experiencing a disease flare, then try to do exercises that are more low-impact, such as yoga or walking. However, if you are feeling healthy and your arthritis is controlled then try to do aerobic and strengthening exercises.

  • Messier, Stephen P., et al. "Exercise and dietary weight loss in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis: the Arthritis, Diet, and Activity Promotion Trial." Arthritis & Rheumatism 50.5 (2004): 1501-1510.
  • Semble, Elliott L., Richard F. Loeser, and Christopher M. Wise. "Therapeutic exercise for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis." Seminars in arthritis and rheumatism. Vol. 20. No. 1. WB Saunders, 1990.
  • Resnick, Barbara. "Managing arthritis with exercise." Geriatric Nursing 22.3 (2001): 143-150.
  • Bunning, Robert D., and Richard S. Materson. "A rational program of exercise for patients with osteoarthritis." Seminars in arthritis and rheumatism. Vol. 21. No. 3. WB Saunders, 1991.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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