Health Encyclopedia

Managing Arthritis With Exercise

Exercise has important health benefits for everyone — regardless of age and physical condition. But if you have arthritis, regular, moderate exercise  —  within your limits — is critical. It can reduce joint pain, improve flexibility, build up muscles to lessen the load on joints, and increase endurance.

It also helps promote your overall health and fitness by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, controlling your weight, and decreasing depression.

The following tips will help you start and stick with an exercise program.

First steps

Remember to start slowly. Stretching exercises, which improve your  flexibility and  range of motion, help you perform daily activities. These are good exercises to begin your routine with. A physical therapist can help you get started. Once you feel comfortable, you may be able to progress to weight training and endurance workouts, such as cycling, swimming, walking, or yoga. Consult your doctor before you begin an exercise program. You should also talk to your doctor if you notice a change in your condition, such as increased pain or decreased mobility. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are available to ease any  discomfort you may experience during and after exercise.

Working it out

When you have arthritis, physical activity and exercise may not seem appealing. The thought of walking or swimming might make you cringe when your body already aches.

Physical therapists encourage water exercises, such as lap swimming, water walking or jogging, and water aerobics. The buoyancy takes the weight off your joints.

Increasingly, physical therapists offer exercise treatments in the water, an approach that is often called "aqua-therapy."

Yoga, tai chi, and cycling are other forms of low-impact workouts that place less stress on your joints. Cross-country ski simulators or elliptical trainers also place less stress on your joints.  Cross training — performing a variety of exercises and activities on different days —  helps prevent overuse injuries, keeps your program fresh, and contributes to better training for your muscles.

Strong muscles ease joint pressure

Weight training isn't just for body builders and athletes. Strong muscles around joints help take pressure off cartilage and bone.

You have various options for resistance training, including free weights, weight machines, or elastic resistance bands.

It's crucial to use proper techniques when strength training. You must tailor your moves to your specific condition. A physical therapist may be able to design a strength program to meet your individual needs.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Weisbart, Ed, MD
  • Ziegler, Olivia Walton, MS, PA-C