Exercising With Arthritis

by Barbara Foster

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of disability in the United States after cardiovascular disease. The term arthritis covers over 100 different rheumatic diseases, but the two most common types are rheumatoid arthritis, which is an inflammatory disorder that affects multiple joints, and osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease. Symptoms of arthritis can be: joint pain, swelling, inflammation and loss of physical function. There is a common misconception that arthritis only affects people over the age of 65, but it can really affect people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. When a person has arthritis, exercising may be the very last thing that they want to do. Getting up and moving about is difficult as it is, without adding in more intentional moving for extended periods of time. However, exercising is one of the very best things that can be done for a person with arthritis. Exercising can reduce joint pain, increase the ability to move, better mood, and increase quality of life.

Exercise is something that should be eased into. A person who is just beginning a workout regimen should not go into a high intensity workout for extended periods of time. To begin with, slow is best. High intensity exercises are things that should be worked up to over time. A doctor should be consulted to find out the best kind of exercise for each individual person, for instance, an elliptical may be a better source of aerobic exercise for one person, but water aerobics may be a better solution for someone else.

Types of Exercises

Strengthening. Building strength is one of the best ways to relieve joint pain. Building strength means doing activities that work the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, shoulders, arms, abdomen, and chest. There are a few different kinds of exercises that build strength, activities like calisthenics, weight training, and working with resistance bands. These types of exercises do not need to be done every day, but should be done every other day. Building the muscles around the arthritic joints can help support and protect them, however if there is any swelling or extra pain after or during, take an extra day off in between, and if the pain or swelling persists, check with a doctor.

Aerobic. Sometimes also known as endurance exercises. This type of exercise is considered to be any kind of activity that increases heart rate and rate of breathing to faster than when sitting, standing or lying down. These exercises can control weight and give more stamina, and should be done 3 times a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. If it is too much on the joints to be all at once, the exercises can be broken down to 10 minute times throughout the day. A few exercises that can be considered aerobic are: walking, swimming, riding a bike, using an elliptical, water aerobics and dancing.

Range-of-Motion. These are stretches that allow a person suffering from arthritis to regain the full range-of-motion in the ailing joints. They relieve stress can be done as often as every day or they can be done every other day. Slow stretches like these gradually make it easier to move and stretch, and can be done pre-workout to loosen up for 5 to 10 minutes.

Other. A doctor could recommend a completely different kind of exercise, depending on the arthritic area and the person. Some could need balance exercises, like yoga or Tai Chi. Exercises like these would primarily be recommended if there is a risk of falling or instability.

When working out, make sure to not overexert the muscles. A person's body will tell them if they are doing this through excess pain, swelling, redness or inflammation of the joint. Before beginning an exercise, it recommended to apply heat. This will relax joints and muscles as well as relieve pain. The heat source, whether it be a hot pack, a warm towel or a shower, should not be too hot or painful and it should be applied for about 20 minutes pre-workout. Icing afterwards is also a good idea, also for 20 minutes to the affected area. As a general rule of thumb, if there is any unusual pain lasting longer than 2 hours after a workout, the exercise may have been too strenuous. Make sure that a doctor is consulted about what type of pain that should be expected and what is a more serious injury. A doctor should also be consulted if a person has rheumatoid arthritis about exercising during general or local flares. One option for these situations would be to just do the range-of-motion exercises. While arthritis is painful, it can also be dealt with and eased with hard work.

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