Exercising With Arthritis

Exercise is an important part of a comprehensive arthritis treatment plan. A complete program consists of the following three types of exercises:

Range-of-motion exercises to keep muscles and joints flexible.

Aerobic exercises to promote cardiovascular conditioning and overall fitness. The exercises should be low-impact: walking, swimming, bicycling, or cross-country skiing.

Strengthening exercises to build up supporting muscles so they can absorb stress on joints and keep them stable. To build strength, choose exercises that rely on isometric tension and light resistance.

A safe start

Discuss with your doctor or physical therapist which activities within each category are right for you.

The following tips can help you get a good start:

  • Learn how to do exercises properly and safely. Talk with a physical therapist who understands proper exercise techniques and is familiar with your condition.

  • Maintain a well-balanced program. You should move your joints through their full range of motion twice a day, in addition to walking, swimming, or performing another aerobic activity.

  • Start gradually and build. Trying to do too much at first may dampen your spirits or cause injury.

  • Create a workout routine. Set aside specific times for exercise and don't skip workouts.

  • Warm up carefully. Start by massaging stiff or sore areas. Then do gentle range-of-motion and strengthening exercises for at least 10 minutes. At the end of a workout, cool down by doing the same exercises at a slower pace for five to 10 minutes.

  • Work at a comfortable, smooth pace.

  • Pay attention to your body. Don't exercise a painful or swollen joint; switch to another activity. Follow the two-hour pain rule: An activity is too strenuous if your joint or muscle pain lasts two hours after exercising, or is worse the next day.

Do the following exercises twice daily to maintain your range of motion.

As you do them:

  • Move in a slow, steady manner; don't bounce.

  • Breathe regularly.

  • Do each exercise five to 10 times.

Stop and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel extreme discomfort or pain.

Shoulder raise

Lie on your back. Raise one arm over your head, keeping your elbow straight. Keep the arm close to your ear. Return it slowly to your side. Repeat with your other arm.

Shoulder stretch

With your head down, place your hands behind your head. Move your elbows back as far as you can while moving your head back. Return to starting position and repeat.

Hip stretch

Lie on your back with your legs straight and six inches apart. With your foot flexed, slide your leg out to the side, then slide it back to the starting position. Repeat with your other leg.

Knee and hip bend

Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other straight. Bend the knee of the straight leg and bring it toward the chest. Push the leg out straight into the air, then lower it to the floor. Repeat with the other leg.

Ankle stretch

While you're sitting with your feet flat on the floor, straighten your legs out in front of you and lift your toes as high as possible. Return them to the floor and lift your heels as high as possible. Repeat.