Best & Worst Exercises for Arthritis

By , Vijay Vad, MD, Creator of the ''Arthritis Rx'' Workout DVD
It might seem intuitive to avoid exercising your joints when they're causing you pain. But, like many aspects of the human body, what seems to make sense isn’t necessarily what's good for you! When you're suffering from arthritis, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to exercise. However, you must learn the right exercises to strengthen the muscles around your joints, and the best stretches to gain and maintain flexibility.
 
Here are the knee strengthening exercises that I prescribe for my patients with knee and hip arthritis. My patients have had great success with them, and I hope you do, too. 
 
 
(Note: Before beginning any exercise program, it’s important to discuss it with your primary doctor)
 
The Best Exercises for Arthritis
"Good" exercises for people with arthritis do not cause any pain. You may have heard (or even believed) the saying “No pain, no gain.” That saying has no place in helping you stay active with arthritis! Start off easy, and work your way up to increased repetitions. You’ll see and feel the results.

Here are three safe ways to strengthen muscles around an arthritic joint. It's important to maintain strength since strong muscles are good shock absorbers that take pressure off the arthritic joint.
 
1.      Standing Hip Extensions: Stand straight, with toes pointing straight ahead of you. If you need to hold onto something when you first start, that’s OK, but your goal is to do these without any support as you build up strength and balance.

At a moderate speed, move your right leg away from your body, just a few inches off the floor, and then return it. Start with 10 reps on each side.

If it feels easy, great! Remember, hold onto to a chair if you must, but eventually, try to do these without holding onto anything. You can do these lifts anytime throughout the day. Not only do they strengthen your legs, but you are also building better balance.

2.      Lying Single-Leg Lifts: These are very good if you can comfortably lower yourself down to the floor. Use a mat or lie on carpet for some extra cushioning. Lie flat on your back, looking up to the ceiling, with the right leg bent and the right food flat on the floor. Raise your left leg (keeping it straight, toes pointing toward the ceiling) just to the level of the right knee. Then slowly lower down but don’t touch the ground. Do 10 repetitions. Reverse the positions of your legs and do the same exercise on the opposite side.

3.      Heel Raises: I love heel raises because you can do them anywhere--in your bathroom, when you’re brushing your teeth, in your kitchen, when you’re washing dishes, and when you’re on the phone. Again, begin by holding onto something for balance. Start with your feet flat on the ground. Now, gently, rise up onto the balls of your feet, and return your heels to the floor. Simple and effective! Start with 10 reps at a time.
 
Don't neglect flexibility, however. Here are three safe and easy ways to maintain flexibility without aggravating your joints.

1.      The Figure Four Stretch: Lie on your back, looking at the ceiling. Place your right heel at a ninety-degree angle on your left thigh above the knee. Using your hand, try to gently push the right knee into the ground. Repeat the same exercise by putting your left heel on your right thigh.
 
2.      Standing Calf and Hamstring Stretch: Stand facing a wall with your hands flat against it. Place your right leg behind your left leg and press your right heel to the ground to stretch the hamstring and calf. Repeat on the other side with left leg behind the right.

3.      Seat Forward Bend: Assume the “lotus position” or sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Gently bend forward to touch the ground. If you cannot touch the ground it is okay, just reach forward as far as you can.
 
Regular aerobic exercise is also an important part of managing arthritis pain. The best aerobic training includes swimming, bicycling, the elliptical machine or walking. Choose one or combine them, but aerobics should be done a minimum of 30 minutes five days a week to be effective.
If you enjoy sports like tennis or golf, limit yourself to no more than three days per week with a rest day in between each game.
  
The Worst Exercises for Arthritis
"Bad" strengthening exercises are ones that cause pain by asking too much of your joints too soon. Anytime you add excess weight to a movement, such as when using an exercise machine at the gym, you run the risk of over-stressing your joints. Here are several common exercises to avoid:

1.      Weighted Knee Extensions: Avoid the leg extension machine at the gym where you lift a padded bar using the fronts of your ankles.

2.      Squats and Lunges: Any movement that puts an uneven load on your knees and hips can irritate your arthritis.
 
"Bad" stretching includes any “aggressive passive” stretching when someone is forcing you past your stretching ability. If it starts to hurt, stop! Pain indicates irritation of the joint. But gentle stretching is always a good idea.
 
Finally, to reduce the possibility of exercise-induced pain, you can apply heat to joints for 15 minutes before exercise, followed by 15-minutes of ice afterward.  
 
 
About the Author
Dr. Vijay Vad is the creator of the Arthritis Rx DVD workout, featuring easy and effective exercises to help pain sufferers reduce pain, enhance mobility, and decrease their dependence on medication, regardless of their current fitness level. Arthritis Rx features three levels of workouts based on yoga and Pilates with bonus exercises to target common problem areas (available from AcaciaLifestyle.com).
 
Practicing for more than 15 years, Dr. Vad, is a Sports Medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, a faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College, and the author of several books, including Stop Pain, Arthritis Rx, and Back Rx. He has made several appearances on public television with PBS Specials, Stop Back Pain and Active with Arthritis, and is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. As well as treating thousands of patients, from professional athletes to couch potatoes, he is actively involved with clinical research into the causes of and treatments for arthritis.
 

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Comments

JUNETTA2002 5/1/2018
Thanks for sharing. Glad to see exercises that I can do. Report
JANET552 3/17/2018
Thanks. Report
RAPUNZEL53 3/5/2018
Thanks. Report
KATHYJO56 2/3/2018
These are great exercises, but it depends on where the arthritis is located. Check with your Dr. Report
ALUKOWSKY 1/31/2018
Disagree about the weighted knee extensions. I have found that they, in addition to other exercises, have helped me greatly by loosening up tight tendons. However, the key is LIGHTER weights and SLOW lifts. Report
TRIMNUP 1/28/2018
Being good to yourself = "gentle stretching" Report
LEANJEAN6 12/16/2017
It seems everyone has a bit of Arthritis! Report
MUSICNUT 12/14/2017
Thanks for a great article! :) Report
LADYSTARWIND 11/9/2017
good article....!! Report
LOSINGITINMO 11/2/2017
Thanks for the helpful information! I just tried those weighted knee extensions today, thinking they would be a good idea -- I think I'll wait a bit for those! Report
7STIGGYMT 10/23/2017
Great information! Report
EO4WELLNESS 10/8/2017
Thanks for this article. It is a great resource. I shared it on pintrest. Report
ALUKOWSKY 8/14/2017
Nobody believes me when I say this, but the activity that provides the most short-term relief for my knee pain is horseback riding! Report
AJB121299 6/19/2017
Nice Report
Great article! Report
Good to know Report
It would be super nice if the name used in the article were the same one used in the fitness tracker!!! Report
AGARDENER
Thank you. I needed this info. Report
Good to know. Thanks! Report
Thanks interesting article. Report
One of the BEST articles I've ever read on Spark!! Report
Squats and lunges are hell on wheels! I agree. Report
I would like some exercises specific to RA and PsA. I've had both hips replaced, A shoulder replaced, and an ankle fusion - with the other ankle needing help desperately as well. I have severe arthritis in my spine ...cervical and lumbar. Also, my elbows and wrists and remaining shoulder are all shot. I have not found ANY exercise that does not cause me pain....but desperately want and need to get stronger.

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Thank you for including yoga and pilates. I've been doing yoga for a little over 3 months and it's been very helpful with my hip pain, more so than the physical therapist I saw for hundreds of dollars per session. Report
Thanks.
I too would like to know how to replace lunges and squats.

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Good article
I'd like to know to do instead of squats and lunges. I modify them by not bending my knees all the way. Report
I have a right TKA and it is frustrating that most workout videos want you to do squats and lunges. No can do anymore. Report
Thanks for a great article. I have done some of the exercises already, but it is good to add a few more. The DVD sounds like a good place to start for exercises. Will check it out! Report
BERNIE792
What about water arobics are they good or not??? Report
I've been looking for some exercises I can do with my arthritic knees. I'm going to check this DVD out ASAP! Report
DOROTHYGONZALEZ
If arthritis attacks, you canít do about it. I have arthritis in my shoulder and it canít make me sleep. Almost I cry because of it. Placidway.com is my tool to feel pain free because of arthritis. The doctors give me the best treatment they have. My warmest thank you to everyone who is involved in making me feels better. Report
SHAKESALOT
great Report
PEBNORTH
great exercises if one could only lie down. I have no cartilage in my knees so a lot of these I could not do unfortunately. Report
Thanks. This will get me started. I skipped a PT appt, cause I'm in pain, and couldn't face more pain. These exercises should let me do them without much more pain. I can sit & lie down without pain, but can't stand without serious pain. Report
Any ideas for sleeping better with arthritis? Anyone? I have left shoulder arthritis but I also I think I have it in my hips. I exercise regularly. My problem is I can't sleep more than 6 hours or so without waking up in achy pain. And I'm still tired. Thanks for the help! Report
As someone with arthritis in all my joints, I, too, would like to see more articles like this one. Thanks for the info. Report
I too would like to see more exercises for arthritic shoulders, elbows, hands,ankles, etc.
Thank you the exercises that you have here. I appreciate them very much.
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While I like this article, I was expecting more exercises for other areas. Hands, shoulders, elbows, those have arthritis, too... Report
CHRISTASP
Thank you. Wonderful that we can use the link to see the exercises right away. Report
 
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