Arthritis – Use it or lose It

Posted on: 16 February 2010 by Mark O'haire

Don't let arthritic pain put you off exercise, as lack of mobility leads to further pain and degeneration of the joint. Instead, enjoy regular gentle exercise.

Arthritis – Use it or lose ItFear of pain often causes people with arthritis to avoid exercise. But ‘use it or lose it’ is the latest message, advising regular moderate to gentle exercise.

Cold weather makes arthritic joints ache more than usual, and the cold and rain or snow can discourage the idea of exercise such as walking. But when a person avoids exercise, joints become less mobile and the surrounding muscles shrink, causing increased fatigue and pain.

The benefits of regular exercise

Staff with expertise in treating arthritis say that as well as maintaining joint mobility, regular gentle to moderate exercise can:

  • strengthen the muscles around your joints
  • help to maintain bone strength
  • give more strength and energy to get through the day
  • make it easier to get a good night's sleep
  • help to control weight
  • give confidence and improve a sense of well-being

What exercise is Suitable with Arthritis?

Range-of-motion exercises: relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion. Range-of-motion exercises involve moving your joints through their normal range of movement, such as raising your arms over your head or rolling your shoulders forward and backward. These exercises can be done daily or at least every other day.

Strengthening exercises: help build strong muscles that support and protect your joints. Weight training, also known as resistance training, can help your current muscle strength or increase it. Do strengthening exercises every other day — but take an extra day off if your joints are painful or if you notice any swelling.

Aerobic exercises: help with overall fitness. They can improve cardiovascular health, help with weight control and give you more stamina. Low-impact aerobic exercises that are easier on your joints include walking, biking and swimming. Try to manage 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. This could be done in 10-minute blocks to make it easier on your joints.

Other activities: Gentle forms of yoga and tai chi may improve balance and help prevent falls. Be sure to tell your instructor about your condition and avoid positions or movements that can cause pain.

Get Expert Advice

Before you start any exercise program, talk to your doctor, and if necessary see a physical therapist to advise you on the sorts of exercises to do.

Your doctor may also know of exercise groups specially for people with arthritis which are run by local hospitals or community health centres.

Take it Easy

As with any exercise program, try not to overdo it, especially in the first few weeks. Too much or too vigorous exercise will overstress joints and muscles and cause more swelling and pain.

In general, if your pain lasts longer than an hour after you exercise, you were probably exercising too strenuously. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor about what pain is normal and what pain is a sign of something more serious.

Move the joints gently at first to warm up. Begin with range-of-motion exercises for five to 10 minutes before moving on to strengthening or aerobic exercises.

It might help to warm the joints first for 10-15 minutes with a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Use slow and easy movements and take a break if there is any pain. Slow down if you notice inflammation or redness in your joints.

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