Fitness Articles

Managing Arthritis with Exercise

Pain, Pain, Go Away

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Does this sound familiar? "My joints are achy, I feel stiff all the time, and it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning." If there were ever a good excuse not to exercise – if there were ever a defensible time to throw in the towel – this would be it, right? Wrong!

In fact, when arthritis is a problem is precisely the time for you to get up and get moving. Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness, and endurance. It also helps with weight reduction and contributes to an improved sense of well-being. Taking the day (or week, month, or year) off will only make things worse for tomorrow.

So where do you go from here? How do you begin a program that helps, not hurts?

Three types of exercise are best for dealing with arthritis. Create a workout program that includes a balance of:
  • Range-of-motion exercises (e.g., stretching) for normal joint movement, relieving stiffness, and maintaining or increasing flexibility. Include at least every other day.
  • Strengthening exercises (e.g., weight training, resistance exercises, nautilus, body weight exercises) for keeping or increasing muscle strength, and supporting and protecting joints affected by arthritis. Include every other day unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.
  • Aerobic or Endurance exercises (e.g., bicycle riding, walking, swimming, cardio gym machines) for improving cardiovascular fitness, controlling weight, improving overall function, and relieving pressure on and inflammation in your joints. Include 20 - 30 minutes, 3x per week unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.
Where To Start 
Begin with easy, range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics. As you become more comfortable with a low-level program, it is possible to progress to more advanced exercises. For example, you might start with water exercise (easiest on the joints) and progress to walking and/or biking or sports. Check with your doctor to learn which sports and exercises would be safe for you to try.
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

    A very helpful article for so many of us out here trying to do our best. - 6/10/2016 3:14:36 AM
  • I have Ra and lupus are there exercies that can be done. - 10/29/2015 6:34:49 PM
    I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was put on the drug femara. It has caused severe bone and joint pain and a lot of mornings it's quite difficult to get out of bed. My son who works out everyday told me that I would feel better if I could get into exercising. This article convinced me! Thanks! - 11/20/2014 11:54:39 AM
  • The reason that I finally put myself on an exercise plan was because I hurt all over. I have arthritis in most joints and my back, tendonitis in wrists, elbow & foot, plantar faciitis & heel spurs, bulging discs, chondromalacia patella etc etc etc. Of course I still have issues but they are much more manageable and I am able to do much more (including walking) with much less pain. - 2/2/2014 8:47:29 AM
  • Thanks for sharing - 1/8/2014 5:59:23 AM
  • ok I have really a question more than a comment. Does anyone know if you can do the floor exercises on a regular bed or do you have to have a hard surface? - 7/29/2013 3:13:23 PM
    I know I have to move to help with my arthrist but some days the pain is so intense but these are the days I make myself move. I try to break my workouts up with swimming some times during the week if I can. But pain is pain it does not go away. - 6/11/2013 2:19:33 AM
  • OK, I finally understand I need to move more in spite of the pain. Spark impresses me with the number of people working thru pain. Feel less alone with my misery, and much more optimistic. THANKS - 5/31/2013 1:04:15 PM
  • This is a wonderful article with sound advice. I was pleased to have it confirmed that I was doing things right. After surgery and therapy for osteoarthritis in my shoulder, along with many complications during the surgery, I found a stretch and tone class that featured all the exercises I had been given in therapy for the shoulder replacement as well as a knee replacement and it has made all the difference. Years ago I had also had back surgery, after suffering a shattered vertebra in a fall from a horse. Three fused vertebra and two stainless steel rods in my back. At that time I wasn't given any therapy. Nearly 30 yrs ago. But since starting the exercise program three days a week, for the last 6 months, I am so pleased to report, there has been an amazing improvement in what I can do. Even getting up and down off the floor after not being able to for years! I also have nearly a full range of motion with my shoulder. My surgeon was surprised at my range of motion. He had warned me, I probably wouldn't come all the way back with range of motion, but at least the shoulder pain would be gone. Well with Gods help and a lot of work I have come back and life is good! - 5/21/2013 9:58:03 PM
  • I really liked that this article made no reference/assumpt
    ions on age. I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 16 and getting active in the last few years has really made a huge difference with my pain management. So many people assume that arthritis is a condition only older adults can have so I appreciate the author refraining from that. - 10/1/2012 7:18:01 PM
  • Sound advice for me, especially because I am elderly. I have always wondered about what inflamed joints feel like. How can you tell (since we do not have x-ray vision) that it is inflammation that is going on? I have wondered about this so long I hope someone who can answer this will message me. I feel sore and stiff for a few days after an exercise session; wonder if that is inflammation or totally something else. - 10/1/2012 7:37:19 AM
  • Loved this,because I have arthritis and neuropathy. I don't just get stiff I go numb. This has kept me from walking and exercising for years, but I have started walking I do feel allot better, - 9/6/2012 3:37:59 PM
  • Thank you for the article and the comments. No one battles this alone. We can do it though usin these wonderful tips and using caring doctors when needed. - 2/2/2011 8:48:00 AM
  • Arthritis is an unpleasant way of life for me, with several orthopedic and neurologic surgeries under my belt to remedy things. I am going to a warm pool for physical therapy and am about to take it on on my own. I know of nothing that lets me move and exercise more freely than being in the water. If that is available, I would recommend it hands down to anyone dealing with artritis pain. There are ways to include and add resistance to your movement and do strength and endurance building that make this the most productive exercise time I spend. - 3/13/2010 3:21:37 PM
  • When I started SP 5 months ago, my knee was weak from surgery six years earlier and my hips hurt from arthritis. I tried to walk and to ride the recumbent bike, but after 15 minutes I just couldn't take it. But I'm a stubborn old Irish woman and I just persisted and today I can walk for 45 minutes and ride the bike for 40 minutes, both on the same day. I feel I am a prime example of what an older woman can accomplish if she just keeps at it.. Thanks goes to SP (and my husband) for their motivation. - 9/25/2008 4:38:06 PM

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