More than 50 million U.S. adults have arthritis. Many experience severe joint pain and, likely because of their pain, don't do much exercising if at all.
But medical experts say that while joint pain is often managed with medication, regular physical activity, trying as it can be, can also be effective in reducing pain from arthritis over time.
In most cases, people with arthritis need to increase their physical activity more gradually than someone without it. A physical therapist will partner with you to develop a program customized specifically to your level of function and your goals."
Randy Siy, PT, MHA, outpatient program coordinator at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 15 million U.S. adults with arthritis have severe joint pain, which is pain at a seven or higher on a scale of zero to 10. A CDC study found that even though physical activity can decrease arthritis pain, nearly half of adults with arthritis and severe joint pain are physically inactive. Severe joint pain and physical inactivity are linked to poor mental and physical health outcomes.
Joint pain can inhibit you from doing simple things like carrying grocery bags or holding a cup, let alone exercising. Understandably, pain and a fear of worsening their condition can make you reluctant to engage in physical activity if you have arthritis.
Nevertheless, exercise is considered an inexpensive way of reducing your pain; preventing or delaying disability and limitations; and improving your mental health, physical functioning and overall quality of life with fewer adverse effects.
There are low-impact exercises appropriate for all fitness levels for adults with arthritis. Siy recommends the following forms of exercise:
Aerobic exercises can help improve your overall fitness, including your cardiovascular health, weight management, and stamina and energy. Walking, cycling, and swimming are great forms of cardiovascular exercise that are promoted by several physical activity programs geared toward reducing arthritis pain. It is recommended that you work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week.
Weight training and resistance exercises can help strengthen muscles that support and protect your joints. If you have arthritis (and especially severe joint pain), you should avoid exercising the same muscle groups two days in a row. "Remember to rest a day in between your workouts, and take an extra day or two if your joints are painful or swollen," Siy says.
For a strength-training program, it is recommended that you do related exercises three times a week, though two days a week is all you need to maintain your strength, Siy adds. For people with knee arthritis, increasing quadriceps strength is important. Exercises such as mini-squats and sit-to-stand from a chair can be beneficial.
These exercises (which might include movements such as marching, finger and wrist flexion/extension, and leg kicks) relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion. "Generally, these exercises can be done daily," Siy says.