Exercises that Help Ease Arthritis Pain and Stiffness
What exercises are best suited for people with arthritis? I have osteoarthritis in my neck, back, hip and knee and have read that exercises can help ease the pain and stiffness, but I do not know where to start and I certainly do not want to aggravate it.
Many people who have arthritis believe that exercise will worsen their conditions, but that is not true. Exercise is actually one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis.
Proper and careful exercises can help reduce joint pain and stiffness, strengthen muscles around the joints and increase flexibility. It also helps manage other chronic conditions that are common among seniors with arthritis, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Determining exactly which types of exercises that are best for you depends on the form and severity of your arthritis and which joints are involved. It is best to work with your doctor or a physical therapist to help you develop a personalized exercise program. The different types of exercises that are most often recommended to seniors with arthritis include:
Range-of-motion exercises: These are gentle stretching exercises that can relieve stiffness and improve the ability of your joints to move through their normal range of motions. These exercises should be done daily.
Strengthening exercise: Calisthenics, weight training and working with resistance bands are recommended (two or more days a week) to maintain and improve your muscle strength. Strengthening your muscles will help support and protect your joints.
Aerobic exercises: Low-impact activities like walking, cycling, swimming or water aerobics are all recommended three to five times per week to help improve cardiovascular health, control weight and improve your function overall.
It is also important to keep in mind that, when you first start exercising, you need to go slow in order to give your body time to adjust. If you push yourself too hard you can aggravate your joint pain. However, some muscle soreness or joint achiness in the beginning is normal.
To help you manage your pain, start by warming up with some simple stretches or range of motion exercises for five to 10 minutes before you move on to strengthening or aerobic exercises. Another tip is to apply heat to the joints you will be working before you exercise and use cold packs after exercising to reduce inflammation.
If you experience significant pain while you are exercising, you may need to modify the frequency, duration or intensity of your exercises until the pain subsides. Alternatively, you may need to try a different activity (e.g., switching from walking to water aerobics). It is important to note that if you are experiencing severe, sharp or constant pain, large increases in swelling or your joints feel hot or red then you need to stop and see your doctor.
To help you exercise at home, the Arthritis Foundation offers a variety of free online videos (see Arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/videos) to guide you through a variety of exercises. There are also arthritis exercise DVDs that you can purchase for a few dollars through Collage Video (CollageVideo.com, 800-819-7111) or the Arthritis Foundation Store (AFstore.org).
Also see Go4life.nia.nih.gov (or call 800-222-2225), a National Institute on Aging resource that offers a free exercise guide that provides illustrated examples of different exercises.
If you need some motivation or do not like exercising alone, ask your doctor about exercise programs in your area for people with arthritis. Hospitals and clinics sometimes offer special programs, as do local health clubs and senior centers.
The Arthritis Foundation also conducts exercise and aquatic programs for people with arthritis in many communities throughout the U.S. Contact your local branch (see Arthritis.org/local-offices or call 800-283-7800 for contact information) to find out what may be available near you.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.