Extensive research shows that physical activity is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis. Being active can help reduce pain and swelling and improve joint function, stamina, and quality of life. Exercise can also stall or prevent the onset of other illness and issues related to arthritis. Though it may seem logical to avoid exercise to prevent worsening arthritis symptoms, studies indicate that sedentary lifestyles often promote the progression of arthritis and other diseases.
The American College of Rheumatology recommends stretching exercises for arthritis to help reduce stiffness and increase flexibility and range of motion. The best stretches depend on the type and severity of rheumatoid arthritis an individual has. This kind of exercise typically involves gently and slowly moving the joints of the hands, elbows, and knees. To begin a stretching routine, warm up for three to five minutes by walking in place or pumping the arms while standing or sitting. Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds, then release. Repeat each stretch two or three times. Consult a physical therapist to learn the best stretching exercises for specific needs.
Cardiovascular disease often accompanies arthritis progression. In a 2015 study in Arthritis Research & Therapy, participants who implemented tai chi exercise routines over three months experienced improvement in arterial stiffness and endothelial dysfunction. This low-intensity martial art incorporates meditation, slow movement, deep breathing, and relaxation. It helps build muscular strength, improves mental and physical balance, and reduces the risk of falling. The CDC and health departments all over the world recommend tai chi as a treatment for arthritis symptoms.
Tai Chi: Neck and Shoulders
Slowly bring up both hands as you inhale. Turn the palms so your fingers are facing upward. Bring palms toward your chest and gently push your chin backward. Then, while exhaling, extend your hands in front of you and press them down slowly while bringing your head down toward your chest. Next, hold up and look at the palm of your left hand while holding your right hand near your right hip; change palms so that your right palm faces you and the left is near the left hip.Roll shoulders forward and backward gently. Extend both arms out to your sides while inhaling, with elbows slightly below your hands. With palms upward, move arms in a curve over your head. Exhale, gently pressing hands down to just under your navel.
Tai Chi: Back
Place hands in front of you as if you’re holding a large ball and inhale. While exhaling, push one hand up as if your palm is pushing the ceiling, and push your other hand down by your side. Change hands. Then, place hands in front as if you’re holding a large ball with left hand on top. Bend knees slightly and turn your waist to your left. Change hands and turn to the right, keeping the back upright.
Pilates is an exercise system designed to strengthen physical and mental health. Routines help improve the lubrication of the joints, which facilitates smooth motion. Research suggests this exercise regimen helps alleviate lower back pain as well as pain associated with knee osteoarthritis. Pilates also helps reduce body fat, lowering stress on the knees. The oblique sit-up is a popular pilates exercise for arthritis that strengthens the abdominal and calf muscles.
Cycling requires continuous motion, which makes it an immensely effective arthritis exercise. Even at low levels of intensity, constant movement promotes the production of synovial fluid that lubricates joints. The Arthritis Foundation recommends three types of bikes: comfort bikes, trikes, and foot-hand cycles.
- Comfort bikes allow for riding in a relaxed, upright position that reduces stress on the shoulders, arms, and back.
- Trikes provide stability and are ideal for people with balance issues or who have never learned to maneuver a two-wheeled bicycle.
- Foot-hand cycles allow you to pedal from a seated position with your feet or hands.
Arthritis symptoms may change from day to day, so people with the condition often need to modify their physical activities. Yoga is easily adaptable; people can adjust poses and the length of time they hold each pose, according to the pain and stiffness they are feeling on any given day. Rheumatologists and yoga therapists maintain that gentle yoga helps improve movement, posture, and balance, while reducing pain and stress.Child’s pose is an easy, gentle way to stretch your lower back. Kneel on the floor, placing padding under the knees if necessary. Bring the knees apart but keep the big toes touching. Sit back on the heels (or place a pillow between the seat and the heels) and fold forward over the thighs. The arms can stretch out overhead or be places along the shins with the palms facing up.
Hand and Wrist Motions
Our muscles and tendons move joints through arcs of motion such as bending the fingers. Arthritis can impair mobility in the hands and wrists, making everyday tasks difficult or impossible. Therapists recommend hand and wrist exercises to help stretch muscles and tendons, increase range of motion, and improve endurance.Place a rolled towel on the edge of a table and place your wrist on it so that your hand hangs off the table edge. Move your hand up until you feel a slight stretch. Return to your starting position. Repeat the motions with your elbow at your side and palm facing up. Hold each position for five to ten seconds. Complete ten repetitions, then switch to the other hand. Perform three sets of ten movements per side, each day.
Water provides buoyancy that can make exercising easier and more enjoyable. It helps relax the mind and muscles and eases pain and anxiety. While lessening stress on joints, water acts as resistance to enhance muscle-strengthening movements. Warm water is especially helpful in helping muscles relax and move more freely.Sit or stand in a pool with chest-deep water to perform exercises for arthritis. Work the hips and knees by slowly raising one foot and straightening the knee. Hold for three seconds. Repeat with the other knee. Next, bring one knee towards your chest with your hands under thighs or over the knee. Repeat with the other knee.
Lifting weights may seem overwhelming for a person with arthritis, but this activity can help manage pain. Resistance training keeps muscles strong, decreases bone loss, and controls joint swelling. Expensive gym equipment or membership is not required.After warming up and stretching, grab two 16-ounce soup cans. Standing with feet apart and knees slightly bent, bend the knees and squat slowly toward the floor. Return to the starting position. Next, do a bicep curl by bending your elbows and bringing the cans up to shoulders and back down. Repeat 10 to 15 times.