7 Tips For Exercising With Joint Pain & Arthritis
We know that exercise is probably the last thing you want to do when you’re living with joint pain, but safely working out can greatly improve your quality of life and actually reduce the pain of arthritis. This is because it increases strength and flexibility, so your muscles are stronger and better able to carry you without excess pressure on the joint.
“The first and most important aspect of managing arthritis is to improve/maintain the movement you have. Joints have a fluid inside them called synovial fluid, this fluid lubricates the joint so that it can move freely and also nourishes the joint,” says Phil Evans, director and lead physiotherapist of Urban Body.
Exercise is great, but it’s important to do it right to avoid injury and excess strain. Read on for our 7 tips on how to exercise when you have arthritis.
1. Warm up properly
Stretching and doing a gentle warm up before you start your main exercise regime is important for a few reasons. Stretching improves flexibility, which improves joint flexibility and increases the full amount of movement your joints can do.
Gemma Nice, Easyoga Founder and Yoga Instructor, says: “It is important that you warm up properly because when you first start your body and muscles will be cold which will mean less blood flow to the body. When you start to exercise, the oxygen will increase meaning the nutrients will get to your internal organs which in turn will supply the brain. The muscles need to be warm and more oxygen supplied through them so you don’t injure yourself. The warmer you are, the better the blood and oxygen supply to your muscles helping recovery times to be speedier.”
Gemma recommends the following yoga poses to warm up.
- Mountain Pose
- Standing Side Bends and Back Bends
- Head and Neck Stretch
- Cat and Cow Pose
- Butterfly Pose
- Cow Face Arms
- Walking and Jogging
2. Do something you enjoy
Some people love yoga or swear by running, but others find it hard to stick to a rigid exercise routine. If that’s you, consider varying your workouts - for example, try swimming one day, doing a yoga class another and doing some gentle strength training later on. This can help you find the kind of activities you enjoy and stop you getting bored - because you’re much more likely to keep at it if you like it.
“It takes 21 days for a habit to form, so if you are dreading doing that particular exercise or group activity then move on and find something else you might like. Try lots of different ones to find the one. Your serotonin levels will be higher (that’s our calming hormone) and our cortisol levels will decrease - that’s our stress hormone.” says Gemma.
3. Try low impact exercises
Exercise doesn’t have to mean running for miles or lifting heavy weights. Swimming is a great form of low impact exercise that combines strengthening and cardio activity to give you a full body workout. The water also takes the pressure off your body and gives you a great feeling of weightlessness, whilst also giving you some resistance to push against. Walking is also a good form of exercise without putting too much strain on your body - plus getting out in nature can reduce stress and increase your general wellbeing.
“For patients with arthritis, high impact and repetitive exercises should be avoided. Ideally, we want to switch up exercises within a routine to avoid overuse of specific joints so circuit sessions are the best way to do this. Patients should also avoid prolonged periods in one position (eg. kneeling on all fours for over 60 seconds). Quick changes of direction should also be avoided and ideally each exercise should be worked through for around 2-3 sets of 12 reps,” says Lillie Bleasdale, Founder & Head Coach at PASSA.
Lillie recommends these general compound strength exercises
- Bodyweight Squat
- Bodyweight Wall Sit
- Bodyweight Bent Hollow Hold
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Bodyweight Good Mornings
“Exercises can be gradually increased in difficulty to include the use of weight from free weight equipment or also resistance machines,” she adds.
4. Incorporate strength building into your routine
“Strength training is needed for any age because it helps the muscles and bones stay healthy. As we get older our bone density decreases so we need to make sure that we have the right amount of muscle mass to protect the bones. The stronger the muscles, the more we can protect our bones and keep strong. It also allows the blood to flow better throughout the body and nourishes the weaker areas of the body,” says Gemma.
5. User exercise props
Using exercise props - like yoga blocks, resistance bands or small weights - can really add to your workout and make certain movements easier or more challenging. Yoga blocks can help you adjust poses to make them easier and less strenuous, while resistance bands and weights can help with strength training - and they can be used from the comfort of your own home.
“They allow you to get into better positions easier for your body without putting too much strain on the muscles and joints. Resistance bands can really help recovery and also strengthen any areas of the muscles and bones which might be slightly weaker,” says Gemma.
6. Try some yoga or pilates
“Yoga is incredible for people with arthritis because it really helps to keep the joints moving and the blood flow into the joints. It makes people feel better because it’s making them less stiff especially when they are getting up from a seated position etc.
Yoga in general can help people sleep better which in turn helps to heal their sore and painful joints. Yoga also improves joint mobility without the stresses and strains in different forms of exercise,” says Gemma.
Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, yoga can help with strengthening, flexibility, balance, and stress relief. Yoga is gentler than running or cycling and restorative forms can be done entirely from the floor, but it can also be challenging and give great results.
7. Cool down
“You need to cool down and stretch out the muscles you’ve been working on so as to get as much blood flow and oxygen to them to help aid the recovery process. This is a must especially the areas which have had the most strain on them,” says Gemma.
Doing a few stretches - like rag doll, pigeon stretch, supine twist stretch, and the happy baby stretch - can help your muscles elongate to avoid strain and may be able to reduce the pain you may feel the next day.