Exercising with Arthritis

Exercising with Arthritis

Shot of a senior couple warming up before a run outside

As a sufferer of Arthritis, I can fully sympathise with anyone who inflicted with this illness.  For me the pain started in my finger joints, probably the result of years of climbing and caving plus being a football goalkeeper.

The arthritis spread to my neck and lower spine and it is the latter that I now suffer the most severe pain.  The deterioration of the bone has caused a ‘pinching’ of the sciatic nerves which, in turn, sends debilitating pains down each leg resulting in me collapsing into a heap on the floor.

Fortunately, strong pain killers help to alleviate the pain and allow me to walk normally.  But where I get most relief from the pain of arthritis, is through walking and exercise.  This also helps to reduce the stiffness of my joints, especially my hips and knees, which have caused me problems in the past.

Exercise is crucial for people with arthritis. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. (Mayo Clinic)

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Apart from walking, other exercise can help you improve your health and fitness without hurting your joints. With the right programme and determination, exercise can:

  • Strengthen the muscles around your joints
  • Help you maintain bone strength
  • Give you more energy to get through the day
  • Make it easier to get a good night’s sleep
  • Help you control your weight
  • Enhance your quality of life
  • Improve your balance

Exercises For Arthritis

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As with any exercise plan, when you suffer from a long-term illness, it is important to seek the advice of your GP before setting out on your programme.  A good plan could include range of motion exercise, strengthening exercise and aerobic exercises.

Range-of-motion exercises

Designed to relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion. These exercises can be done daily and should include all joints.

Strengthening exercises

These exercises are important to help strengthen your muscles that help support and protect your joints. Weight training is probably the best for muscle strength. Never exercise the same muscle groups two days in a row and take rest days between work outs.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic or endurance exercises will help you with your overall fitness and can improve your cardiovascular health, help you control your weight and give you more energy.  The safest form of aerobic exercise is moderate, low-impact workouts

Good examples of low-impact aerobic exercises include walking, cycling and swimming. Ideally you should be aiming to achieve 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This does not have to be done all in one session but spread over the week.

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Daily Chores

Never forget that daily chores such as vacuuming the carpet, cutting the grass or washing the car, even ironing all constitute exercise.  Some are range of movement exercises and others are aerobic.  Either way, just by living you are exercising your joints.

You may also wish to consider yoga and tai chi as these arts help improve balance, posture and co-ordination which in turn prevents falls and aids relaxation.

Protect Your Joints

If you have not done any serious exercise for some time, then it is important that you take it slowly.  Gently ease yourself into exercise and do not be tempted to push too hard as you will only cause problems for your muscles and joints.

The following points are very important and will prevent serious injury:

  • Keep the impact low. remember the best form of low-impact exercise is walking, cycling and swimming
  • Apply heat before. We are often too keen to get started that we forget to ‘warm-up’.  By this I literally mean applying warm pads or towels to your joints in order to relax the muscles and joints.  Maybe even take a hot shower before starting any exercise.
  • Move gently. Do not rush in too quickly, gently increase the rate of exercise until you have warmed up. Start with your ‘range of movement’ exercise to loosen up the muscles and joints.
  • Go slowly. Exercise with slow and easy movements. If you feel pain, take a break as this might indicate something is wrong. Slow down if you notice swelling or redness in your joints.
  • Ice afterwards. Apply ice to your joints for up to 20 minutes as needed after activity, especially after activity that causes joint swelling.  Do not apply the ice directly on to your skin but wrap it is a towel first.

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Remember, you are the best expert on how you and your joints feel.  Do not push it too hard and ‘listen’ out for the signs that you need to pull back a bit or stop.  At the end of the day, just getting your joints moving is the important factor.  The degree and ease of movement will come with time.

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