Is osteoarthritis pain and stiffness discouraging you from exercising or being physically active? Research shows that people with different types of arthritis can benefit from physical activity. Below are answers to common questions about exercising with arthritis.
Why is exercise usually recommended for people with arthritis?
If you have arthritis, benefits of exercise include:
- Helping to lessen arthritis symptoms by keeping joints lubricated and producing endorphins, which are chemicals in your body that help reduce feelings of pain
- Losing weight (or keeping body weight under control), which reduces pressure on weight-bearing joints
- Increasing muscle strength and range of motion, reducing stiffness, and enhancing coordination and balance
- Lowering the risk of health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.
Can exercise make my arthritis worse?
Not exercising could actually make you feel worse because inactivity can cause loss of joint motion, stiffness, and muscle weakness, which can increase feelings of fatigue. Staying active and exercising regularly will not make your arthritis get worse faster, as long as you are not overdoing it.
How can I exercise safely?
- Get the OK: Ask your doctor or physical therapist about what exercises are best for you and what to avoid
- Warm up: Begin each exercise session with a warm-up to increase the temperature of muscles and joints. Be sure to stretch, which increases your range of motion and lessens stress on ligaments and joints.
- Start slow and easy: Have a goal of working up to moderate or vigorous intensity. Use the “talk test” to measure intensity--if you can carry a conversation, you’re exercising at moderate intensity. If you're only able to say a few words before you need to pause for a breath, you’re exercising at vigorous intensity.
- Be smart during exercise: Stop and rest when you need to. Avoid exercise that is jarring or high-impact, such as running. Walk on flat, level surfaces, particularly if you have ankle, foot, knee, or hip problems.
- Cool it down: When you are finishing exercising, do a cool- down to bring your heart rate down to a few beats above normal. Your cool- down might involve slowing down the exercises you are doing, lifting light weights, or stretching.
How can I manage pain?
- Consider taking acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or another pain medicine before you exercise, but be careful not to push too hard because you are feeling good from taking the medicine.
- Your doctor or Rite Aid Pharmacist can advise on different pain medicines that may be right for you. People with kidney disease or a history of gastrointestinal bleeding should avoid NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen). People with liver disease should avoid acetaminophen.
- If exercise makes your pain worse, try cutting back on how long or how hard you exercise the next time.
What types of activity are best for people with arthritis?
- Physical activity that combines moderate-intensity aerobic exercise with strength conditioning has the most benefits. Some examples are swimming and biking.
- Water exercises may be best for some people. Swimming laps, water aerobics, or walking in the shallow end of a pool all make the muscles around your spine and legs stronger.
- Ask your doctor whether you can outdoor cycle or use a stationary bike. If you have balance problems, it may be best to use a stationary bike. If you have arthritis of the hip or knee, biking may worsen your symptoms.
- If you are not able to do water exercises or use a stationary bike, try walking, as long as it does not cause too much pain.
- Ask your physical therapist or doctor to show you gentle exercises that will increase your range of motion and strengthen the muscles around your joints.
For the best health, recommendations are that you get, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity exercise, or an equivalent combination of both. Doing muscle strengthening exercises twice a week at 30 minute increments and balance exercises is also recommended. Short sessions of at least 10 minutes throughout the day every day can add up to big health benefits.
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Benefits of Stationary Biking, Arthritis Foundation:
Exercise and Arthritis, American College of Rheumatology
Exercise for Arthritis, Arthritis Foundation
Handout on Health: Osteoarthritis: National Institute on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:
Patient Information: Arthritis and Exercise (Beyond the Basics), UpToDate®:
Stay Active and Exercise – Arthritis, Medline Plus:
Try These Exercises: Go4Life, National Institute on Aging at National Institute on Health: