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October 17, 2019 | Abigail Mckay

Can Exercise Help Arthritis Pain?

Arthritis, characterized by swelling, stiffness, and pain of one or multiple joints, can be debilitating for those who suffer from it. This condition is generally diagnosed later in life, and it can progressively worsen with time.  However, there are multiple treatment options available, both holistic and pharmaceutical, to substantially decrease the pain and swelling associated with arthritis.  There are different types of arthritis, and the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Regardless of the type, the symptoms are essentially the same and it can severely decrease range of motion and quality of life.  


Arthritis can make every-day activities difficult due to pain and stiffness, so it is important to implement strategies that increase mobility and decrease pain.  Exercise is one of the most important activities that can increase the quality of life when it comes to arthritis.  Many doctors stress the importance of exercise as one of the most pivotal activities to improve pain and stiffness.  Exercise, though it may seem overwhelming when you are already in pain, can strengthen muscles around the joints, reduces stiffness, boost energy levels, promote a restful night’s sleep, and balance weight. The cardiovascular benefits are numerous when consistently engaging in activity, such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and decreased risk of a cardiac event. 


When starting an exercise program after the initial arthritis diagnosis, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist.  They should be able to start you on a program to strengthen and promote the range of motion (ROM).  Range of motion exercises should be done daily and do not have to be paired with exercise. Many people who suffer from arthritis report increased stiffness first thing in the morning, so it is vital to engage in ROM activities upon waking. Strengthening exercises help to build muscle, which will protect the joints.  It is not necessary or encouraged to do strengthening exercises every day because your muscles need time to recover.  Some exercises can place strain on the joints, so strengthening and aerobic exercises should be approached with caution and should be discussed with your physical therapist or physician before implementing it. 


Examples of positive, beneficial exercises that are low impact include walking, bicycling, swimming, and elliptical.  Low-impact activity is ideal when dealing with arthritis because they protect the joints and do not cause an increased strain. Before exercising, apply heat to joints that are painful.  When you start to exercise, go slowly and do not do more than you can handle. Stretching after exercise can help relieve muscular pain and allow your body time to cool down.  If you notice swelling in your affected joints after exercise, ice the affected areas.  Ask your physician about exercise programs in your area that are specifically geared toward those with arthritis. Exercising with others who are in the same phase of life is empowering and healthy both mentally and physically.

Abigail Mckay

Abigail has been a nurse for five years, and throughout her time as a nurse, she has worked in multiple medical-surgical units as well as spent time in the infusion therapy clinic and endoscopy lab. She is passionate about preventative medicine through patient education regarding nutrition and exercise. Due to her passion, Abigail has gone on to earn two certifications including a certification in medical-surgical nursing (CMSRN) and a certification in holistic nursing (HNB-BC), in hopes of being able to better serve her patients. Abigail earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA and now bettering patient education in the healthcare system through partnering with American TelePhysicians.