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Fitness Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Exercising with Arthritis: Getting Started

Manage Symptoms with Physical Activity

-- By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
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Flexibility Training
Stiff joints hurt your ability to perform daily tasks, like buttoning a shirt or opening a can. But stretching will improve your range of motion, resulting in greater flexibility and less pain. Stretch every major muscle group daily, paying particular attention to the joints affected by arthritis to help prevent joint stiffness and soreness.
  • Try SparkPeople's Stretching Guide. This program offers a wide variety of stretches, from seated to standing and beginner to advanced. Choose the stretches that work for you and do them on a daily basis.
  • Avoid bouncing during stretches. A stretch should be slow, controlled, and not pushed to the point of pain.
Strength Training
Weak muscles are common in people with arthritis. This decrease in strength is often caused by inactivity (due to the pain of arthritis) or medication side effects. Muscular strength is important because it decreases the stress on your joints, absorbs shock, protects your joints from injury, and helps improve your overall mobility. Before you start a strength training program, talk to your doctor for recommendations based on your condition and the degree of inflammation you experience.
  • Try to perform strengthening exercises every other day. Start slowly and master the form of each exercise without weights, then move up to light weights that you can control. SparkPeople's Guide to Strength Training and Exercise Demos can help you get started.
  • Try isometric exercises. These safe and effective moves contract your muscles but don't move the joint (i.e. holding a bag of groceries). They're great for people with very painful joints because they build muscular strength with very little joint motion. Some examples of isometric exercises in the Fitness Resource Center include: Isometric Biceps Hold with Towel and Isometric Shoulder Hold with Towel. But you can modify any exercise to make it isometric by holding the position without repeating the movement. For example, Dumbbell Squats and Forward Lunges become isometric when you lower into the squat or lunge position and hold it there instead of performing the up and down motion.
  • Avoid strength training if you are experiencing joint swelling or pain. Resume your activities when the swelling and pain subside. Continued ›
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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 a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • This is a great article. I have bursitis in my left help and I learn to exercise through the pain. It's getting better everyday. - 9/14/2013 9:46:18 AM
  • REINVENTME127
    One article says avoid weight bearing exercise with arthritis and one says do it. One article says do lunges and one says dont. Most articles i have read said to avoid weight bearing exercise with arthritis. - 9/12/2013 8:11:00 PM
  • K_RENEE
    I hope these help my knee because sometimes when I exercise it hurts really bad. - 11/29/2011 9:32:05 PM
  • KTK19147
    Good job, Jen, getting the word out about the benefits of exercise when one has arthritis.
    I must admit as a scientist that I was confused in first reading the article however b/c of your incorrect usage of "positive relationship between arthritis and exercise".

    There's actually a NEGATIVE relationship between these b/c as exercise goes up, arthritis PAIN goes down. This is therefore an inverse or negative correlation/relat
    ionship. A positive relationship would be as one goes up, the other does, too (or down, the other goes down, too)

    I think what you're trying to say is that there's a positive EFFECT on arthritis pain when you exercise.

    Just trying to clarify it from scientific terminology standpoint so people don't get the wrong idea and think there's something bad about exercising when you have arthritis pain. I try to encourage all my patients to exercise b/c it's wonderful all around for most things.

    Thanks for all you do in spreading the great word about exercise and its manifold benefits. - 11/28/2011 3:39:13 PM
  • DONNA558
    I pretend I am a TickleMe Plant - It is the only house plant that moves when you Tickle It
    The leaves fold and the branches bend down when Tickled! Search TickleMe Plant to grow your own. If you pose like one, you may find it is a wonderful and relaxing therapy as well and itmay ease some of the pain. - 5/27/2011 5:58:28 AM
  • KELLEYPAUL
    Joining this message board I can get some tips from all of you on what I can do. I have bad knee's. I have already had MRIs, taken steriods and waiting on a followup with my orthopedic doc. Because nothing has helped. Before the injury I was in a bootcamp class 3 days a week. Now I have a knot on the back side of my knee and a bruised feeling on the outer side of the knee. Not sure what will have to be done, since the MRIs only showed inflammation. None of the remedies have worked and I'm tired of not being able to workout, much less walk around for more than a couple hours. I am needing to workout, but everything seems to revolve around working the knees. Any suggestions? (also have limted use of my left wrist, so pressure on the wrist has to be modified at times). Signed...falling apart at 40. - 4/21/2011 12:47:49 PM
  • On Tuesday, August 17 I will be going into the hospital for knee replacement surgery.
    I decide to have one knee done and later the other.

    Does anyone have any words of wisdom..... I really could use some.

    I may or may not go into rehab for a week. It all depends on the therapists. I am hoping for rehab in order to give my husband and our daughter a break. - 8/9/2010 8:43:22 PM
  • NANCYKLU
    I have Osteoarthritis, I've had a total knee replacement. I've also been diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica. Before that, exercising was really hard. I'm in Physical Therapy right now, doing both water and land therapy. I've been put on Prednisone, and for the first time in months, I'm beginning to feel better and am able to exercise more without so much pain. Praise God! I look forward to getting involved with the SparkPeople to keep my motivation and lose weight and keep it off. Thank you so much for this site. - 1/24/2010 4:27:55 PM
  • WISTFULVISTA
    Jen, thank you for this article! I've been doing physical therapy for my arthritis (mostly in my hip) for quite some time, and it really helps. At first, I thought, "This hurts! How could it be good for me?" but I just had to move past the initial stiffness and weakness. You give some great advice here! - Susan - 8/5/2009 2:54:21 PM
  • Hi! I too am troubled with osteo arthritis.... I am in physical therapy due to some heart related issues and the exercise has helped me go from being in a wheel chair to walking with a cane....Also it has helped me with some much needed weight loss. After I do the exercise, I am so sore the next day I can hardly go...but by the next day I have started to feel better. It is not an easy task so this support is much needed and very appreciated! - 2/26/2009 6:57:55 AM
  • TUTTIEL
    I have rheumatoid arthritis in my hands, but it has stabalized with medicine. I now have osteoarthritis in my left foot. It is very hard to think exercise when you have pain in your foot. I really need motivation. - 12/4/2008 2:22:34 PM
  • I found flexibility exercises using "Indian Clubs" shown on YouTube and I have started doing them to help my upper shoulders and back. I don't have arthritis and I don't want to get it. - 6/9/2008 5:16:13 PM
  • MISSJANE4
    You have encouraged me to try again. I am a breast cancer survivor and after a recent lumpectomy, I have trouble raising my arm. I also have arthritis. Wish me luck. - 3/30/2008 11:18:59 AM
  • This article is so true. I have diagnosed arthritis in my neck, but I'm am pain free there since I began exercising on a regular basis. Take it slow. - 3/18/2008 11:00:09 AM
  • GAZELLA
    It may be uncomfortable at first, but slowly incorporating exercise into your life if you have arthritis (like me) will make a tremendous difference in how you feel! It has decreased my pain level, too. - 1/4/2008 8:46:55 AM
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