Guest Post: Arthritis and Exercise
By Kris Abbey
Research has found that regular exercise can be an effective treatment for arthritis and can also contribute to improving your overall health. Health and Wellness Expert Kris Abbey shares some of her tips on the best exercises to help relieve arthritic pain.
If you’re an arthritis sufferer exercise can be your friend. In fact, exercises that improve muscle strength and build endurance are important parts of an arthritis treatment program.
Low impact exercises are the best to ensure no further damage is done to the joints. Low impact exercise can still improve strength, function, and physical fitness. Swimming, cycling, walking and yoga are all great forms of low impact exercise – just ensure you consult a qualified exercise therapist for the best recommendation for you based on your arthritis, physical fitness and goals.
Endurance exercises work to increase the heart and breathing rates, which can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and improve fitness. Exercise does not need to be strenuous or high impact to achieve this; during moderate intensity endurance exercises, you should be able to carry on a conversation. The type and amount of endurance exercise recommended depends on your current fitness level.
If you’re a sufferer of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), water exercise (swimming, aqua-aerobics, and walking in water etc) is preferable, as not only is it low-impact, the buoyancy provided by water decreases pressure on joints and allows you to exercise without the impact of your body weight.
Regardless of the form of endurance exercise, start at a low intensity and for a short time. It is normal to feel some joint or muscle soreness after exercising, especially if you are unfit. However, soreness should not last more than two hours. If pain or fatigue lasts into the next day, the exercise was probably too long or too vigorous. This is when the ‘no pain no gain’ theory is a complete load of BS! Be kind to yourself.
Strength exercises can help to improve joint stability and decrease pain. Examples of exercises that build strength include the use of free weights, weight machines, or your own body weight (for example, modified squats to build knee strength).
It is vital you work with an exercise specialist who can guide you on how to perform various strength exercises so you don’t progress your arthritis. For example, if you suffer arthritis-related knee problems, you will need to modify quadriceps exercise to protect your knee joint. Likewise doing free-weights for your upper body if you suffer shoulder pain. There are still a lot of strength exercises you can do, but please ensure you have guidance from an expert to ensure you don’t do further damage.
Strength Training Success
- Movements should be smooth, not jerky
- Care should be taken to avoid gripping the weight or exercise machine handle too tightly
- The weight should be light enough that the movement can be performed 8 to 10 times (one set) without pain or excessive fatigue
- To avoid fatigue and joint stress, alternate one set of arm exercises with one set of leg exercises (For example, one set of biceps curls, one set of quadriceps curls, one set of triceps curls, one set of hamstrings curls, then repeat the circuit)
- The weight can be increased when 10 repetitions can be performed with ease and when the increased weight does not increase joint pain
- People with inflammatory arthritis should remain on the side of caution, and they should start with a lighter weight and increase slowly. For example, arm exercises can start with as little as 0.5 to 1 kilogram
Protect your joints
If you do suffer arthritis you must take a few extra precautions to protect your joints while exercising.
Here’s some of my tips:
- Always warm-up and cool down before increasing intensity.
- Include stretching as part of your exercise regime
- Walk on flat, level surfaces, especially if prone to hip, knee, foot, or ankle problems.
- Wear supportive footwear, such as a good running shoe, and use a shoe insert that supports the arches and provides cushioning to reduce impact on hips, knees, and feet. The shoe’s original liner may be fine, although an insert with additional cushioning is often helpful for people with foot or knee pain.
- Avoid jarring movements and high-impact activities such as running.
- Respect pain. DO NOT ignore it. If you feel pain during a particular exercise, stop doing that exercise
- Start slow and increase activity gradually.
- Pay attention to your posture and alignment. Execute exercises with proper technique.
- do not take excess pain medication prior to exercise; this can mask pain and cause you to over-exercise.
- Caution is recommended after a knee or hip replacement. High-impact sports such as running, football, baseball, basketball, and soccer are not recommended. However, participation in non-impact or low-impact sports such as swimming, cycling, or walking is encouraged.
- Take a good supplement to ease pain and inflammation. I’m a fan of Rosehip Vital with GOPO as it’s a clinically tested plant-based anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and natural vitamin C… and it works!
So, arthritis doesn’t need to prevent you from being active. Just choose you wisely, and always listen to your body. Enjoy!
Kris Abbey (BA Ed Phys Ed & Sci) runs a boutique fitness centre on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Read some of Kris Abbey’s previous blog posts, including 10 ways how to to decrease the impact of exercise on your joints. Visit her website for lots more health and wellness inspiration. Follow her on Instagram.