You may have read Part 1 of our arthritis series. It provides some clear information about the range of conditions that are described as arthritis. If not, check it out here. The leads to the question – what can be done about arthritis, and is exercise any help?
Is exercise good for arthritis?
Research has found that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis.
It can help to:
- Mobility & range of motion of joints
- Muscle Strength
- Posture & balance
- Muscle tension
Just as importantly, physical activity will improve your overall health. It also improves your sleep, energy levels and mental well-being.
What types of exercise should I do?
Before you start to exercise it is important to ask your healthcare professionals to help you develop a suitable program and choose the best activities for you. Generally you will need to do a mix of:
- Flexibility: to maintain or improve the mobility and range of motion of your joints and muscles. E.g. muscle stretches and yoga.
- Muscle strengthening: strong muscles help to support and take pressure off sore joints, strengthen bones and improve balance. E.g. weights, resistance bands or gym machines.
- Cardiovascular Fitness: to improve the health of your heart and lungs e.g. brisk walking and swimming.
There isn’t just one particular exercise recommended for all people with arthritis- most importantly choose an activity that you enjoy. Low-impact exercises, with less weight or force going through your joints, are usually most comfortable.
Examples of low-impact activities include:
- Exercising in water, such as hydrotherapy (with a physiotherapist) & swimming
- Strength training
- Yoga and Pilates
How much should I do?
If you have arthritis and you have not exercised for a while, you may need to start with shorter sessions then build slowly. Talk to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist about getting started to help you avoid an injury or over-doing it. Activities such as gardening, playing with pets or taking the stairs can also count as exercise.
How will I know if I’ve done too much?
It can be hard to predict how your body will cope with a new activity. The most important thing to do is to listen to your body. A general guide is the ‘2 hour pain rule’ – if you have extra or unusual pain for more than two hours after exercising, you’ve done too much. Next time you exercise, slow down or do less. Talk to your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist if you continue to experience pain post exercise.
Should I exercise through pain?
No. You should stop exercising if it causes you unusual pain or increases your pain beyond what is normal for you. Exercising through this type of pain may lead to injury or worsening of your arthritis symptoms. (Note many people with arthritis have some amount of pain all the time. This is not a reason to avoid exercise. You should only stop if you notice extra/unusual pain while you are exercising).
When is the best time to exercise?
If possible, try to exercise when:
- You have least pain and stiffness
- You are least tired
- Your medicines are having the most effect (ask your doctor or pharmacist about how to time your medicines with exercise if possible. This may help to make your exercise session more comfortable).
- Talk to your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can suggest safe exercises and ensure correct exercise technique to prevent an injury.
- You may need more rest and less exercise during a ‘flare’ (a period of increased pain and stiffness.) Avoid exercising a joint that is red, hot, swollen or painful.
- Build up slowly. When you first start, do less than you think you will be able to manage. If you cope well, do a little bit more next time and keep building up gradually.
- Always start your exercise with some gentle movements to warm up your body and your joints to help prevent pain and injury during exercise.
- Cool down at the end of your session with some gentle movements and stretches to help prevent muscle pain and stiffness the next day.
Jude Holroyd is the Principal Physiotherapist at The Healthy Body Company in Jordan Springs. He has written a huge number of great articles on all sorts of physiotherapy related topics. Check them out.