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October 17, 2019 | Abigail Mckay

Can Exercise Help Arthritis Pain?

Arthritis is characterized by swelling, stiffness, and pain in one or multiple joints. It can be debilitating for those who suffer from it. This condition is generally diagnosed later in life and 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.  

23% of all adults in the United States (roughly 54 million) have arthritis. Nearly half of these people suffer from limitations in their day-to-day activities because of the associated pain. For context, this translates to one in four adults in the United States.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a swelling and painful inflammation in one or more of the joints. In cases where there is inflammation in more than one joint, the condition is referred to as polyarthritis. This condition is characterized by joint stiffness that typically worsens with age.

The two most common types of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis, and
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis are concurrent with the signs of inflammation:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Heat, and
  • Loss of function (deranged motion)

Does Exercise Help Arthritis?

Exercise is the healthiest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to reduce symptoms of arthritis. Exercises increase muscle and bone strength to naturally and effectively reduce joint pain associated with arthritis.

Most people would believe that exercising is counter-intuitive to reducing joint pain, given how a patient has a reduced range of motion, fatigue, and joint pain. This can make exercise seem difficult.

However, a lack of physical activity can weaken the muscles that support your joints and thus cause increased stress, aggravating pain, and joint stiffness. Fortunately, exercise offers a plethora of benefits for those who suffer from arthritis including better balance, flexibility, endurance, and energy.

Exercises For Joint Pain

On the off chance that you have joint pain, you need to be certain your activity routine has these objectives as a top priority:

1. Increased Range of Motion

An increased range of movement (improved joint versatility and adaptability). To expand your range of movement, move the joint to the extent that it can go and afterward attempt to push somewhat farther. These activities should be possible any time, in any event, when your joints are difficult or swollen, as long as you do them delicately.

2. Resistance Training

Extravagant and expensive gear isn't required. You can utilize your own body weight as weight for muscle training. The following exercise should be incorporated into your exercise regimen for resistance training and improving joint function:

Utilize your thigh muscles while you’re seated to stand up. You can also utilize your arms for balance if needed. Maintain that position for a second (at least) and then sit back down utilizing your thigh muscles again.

3. Increase Your Endurance

It would be counter-intuitive to fatigue yourself, and potentially harm yourself, with high impact or high-intensity workouts while suffering from arthritis. However, high-impact workouts like strolling, swimming, and bicycling fortify your heart and lungs and in this way build perseverance and well-being.

Stick to exercises that don't over-work your joints, and keep away from high-paced exercises like running. In case you're having any side effects, stand by until it dies down before continuing the perseverance workout.

4. Maintain Balance

Some pretty straightforward approaches can help you improve your balance. For instance, remain with your weight on two feet. Then, at that point have a go at lifting one foot while you balance on the other foot for 5 seconds.

Repeat on the opposite side. Over the long run, move gradually as long as 30 seconds on each foot. Yoga and judo are additionally useful for balance.

Benefits of Exercising While Having Arthritis

Joint pain and stiffness usually manifest themselves as early morning stiffness (in the case of rheumatoid arthritis), night-time stiffness (in the case of osteoarthritis), and constant pain (in the case of gouty arthritis). Exercise can help in improving your general well-being in the following ways:

  • Strengthens the muscles around the affected joint
  • Helps in maintaining bone strength
  • Overcomes stiffness
  • Builds more resistance
  • Gives someone with arthritis more energy to go about their day regularly
  • In the case of osteoarthritis, exercise can help you sleep better at night
  • Maintaining weight and therefore avoiding putting undue stress on your joints
  • Enhances your quality of living
  • Improving balance
  • Building better endurance and strength

Some people believe that exercise is the last thing you should be doing if you’re suffering from arthritis. This misconception has been debunked by physicians and experts who have stated that it isn’t because of exercise but a lack thereof that can make your joints even more painful and stiff.

This is because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones. Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints.

How to Optimize Your Exercise Regimen

A workout is only as good as what you take out of it. For example, someone with arthritis shouldn’t focus their regimens surrounding the affected joint. They can, however, work out to enhance muscle and bone strength in the area of the joint.

Optimizing your workout means researching and then understanding what would work best for you and what wouldn’t. The following tips are recommended for people who are working out to increase their range of motion and decrease pain associated with arthritis:

  • Start Slow: if you haven’t been active in some time, you can easily injure yourself if you push too hard.  You can overwork your muscles, easily fatigue yourself, and thereby worsen joint pain.
  • Start with Low Impact Exercise: wall sits, recumbent bikes, ellipticals, jogging, and other such activities can keep joint stress to a minimum. You can move on to high-impact exercises later on once you build up enough endurance.
  • Hot and Cold Treatments: immediately after exercising, use a cold pack to relax the joints that are feeling the burn. If you feel acute pain related to your workout (brought on by inactivity), it is best to keep that area cool. However, for sub-acute pain, use hot packs.
  • Pre-Workout Prep: it probably goes without saying that you need to keep hydrated before, during, and after your workout. Another important factor to consider is keeping your joints warm with a warm towel for about twenty minutes before your workout.
  • Build Up to Aerobics: before you move onto high intensity workouts such as aerobics, start off with ten minutes or so of low intensity, building-up workouts.
  • Apply Cold Treatments Afterward: apply a cold pack or ice to your joints for upwards of twenty minutes (or as needed) after working out, especially if the activity is such that it causes joint swelling.

When Should You Consult Your Doctor?

A significant portion of people living in the United States suffer from one form or another of arthritis. The condition limits you in what you can and cannot do. However, there are certain misconceptions surrounding the condition.

One such misconception is that you can’t or shouldn’t exercise. It is, however, indicated that you should exercise to improve strength and increase endurance if you suffer from arthritis.

Consult a doctor if you need help in educating yourself over the limitations of your condition and to optimize a workout regimen with arthritis in mind.

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.