How to Exercise With Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. There are over 100 types of arthritis that can affect 1 joint or the whole body. Scientists have found a positive link between arthritis and regular exercise. When performed properly, exercise can decrease pain and increase your range of motion, allowing you to do more during the day. It can even combat fatigue and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. The most important thing to note is that since there are so many types of arthritis, a workout plan should be tailored to your abilities and pain levels. This article will tell you how to exercise with arthritis.


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    Meet with your doctor to discuss an arthritis exercise routine. The doctor will have specific boundaries for your exercise. For example, weight-lifting or cycling may not be recommended but resistance bands and swimming might work well.
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    Begin working out with a physical therapist. These professionals understand your limitations, and they can teach you how to perform the movements correctly to avoid injury. Do 1 to 2 months (4 to 16 sessions) of workouts with the physical therapist, while practicing at home in between, to prepare yourself for exercise routine.
    • Your physician can recommend or refer you to a physical therapist that regularly works with arthritis patients. Ask your physical therapist to write down activities that you should do, and how to do them in proper form, so you can refer to the guides when you get home.
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    Plan an exercise regime that includes range-of-motion exercises every day, strength training every other day and cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise every day or every other day. The best arthritis workout programs are moderate and consistent. Avoid strenuous activity or overworking yourself.
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    Put moist heat on swollen joints before you work out. Options include a warm shower, a hot pack, a moist towel or a microwaveable grain bag. Apply for 20 minutes, and avoid making the water too hot.
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    Begin exercise each day by doing range-of-motion exercise. This includes stretching for flexibility and slow, steady movements of the joints, such as arm circles. Work up to 15 minutes of 1 of a combination of the following exercises:
    • Do simple stretches on each of your major muscle groups. Move each major joint in a slow circular motion. Move your neck from left to right, and never force a joint. This is the easiest form of range-of-motion exercises, and they are usually prescribed by a physical therapist.
    • Do gentle yoga or tai chi. There are many exercise videos that you can buy and classes you can take that are intended for people with arthritis or other chronic health problems. Look into your town's local lifelong learning classes or rent a few videos from Netflix until you find the program that feels the best.
    • Swim or play golf. These 2 activities require more money and equipment. They may also require alteration. Swimming allows you to move your joints in different ways, in a weightless, no-impact environment. You can buy a snorkel mask to avoid turning your neck or use a swimming belt to keep you afloat. Make sure you have cleared these activities with your doctor before beginning.
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    Move on to aerobic exercise. Doctors and most governments suggest between 150 and 175 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity per week, to keep your lungs and heart healthy. The following are popular forms of aerobic exercise for people with arthritis:
    • Do aqua aerobics or water walking. Community and gym pools provide lanes for people using slow movements and classes that allow you work to your own abilities. Most classes use water weights and swimming belts to reduce impact and improve the quality of muscle movement.
    • Swimming can be considered a range-of-motion, aerobic and resistance exercise. Try to swim for at least 30 minutes, starting slowly and employing a number of different strokes. The crawl stroke, backstroke and sidestroke are popular with arthritis sufferers. Use a snorkel mask during the crawl stroke if you want to avoid turning your neck to breathe.
    • Walk for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Try to walk as fast as you can without causing pain. Ensure you wear shoes with excellent arch supports and cushioning to decrease the impact of the exercise. If it hurts too much to exercise for 30 minutes in a row, break these walks into 10 minute increments 3 times per day.
    • Ride a bike. Arthritis patients should choose their street or stationary bike carefully. Most arthritis patients prefer recumbent bikes because they allow you to sit with your back straight and lessen the impact on your back and shoulders. Recumbent or cruiser street bikes can also allow you to sit and cycle without leaning forward onto your shoulder and wrist joints.
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    Start strength-training every other day. Do this on the days when you do not do cardio exercise to avoid muscle exhaustion. The following are popular ways that arthritis patients do their strengthening exercises:
    • Lift small hand weights. Get a physical therapist's help in establishing a weight routine that targets the right muscles around the joints. People with back problems can lift weights in different directions while laying on the ground. Avoid lifting too much and always ask for instructions before trying exercise machines.
    • Use resistance bands. These bands are available in sports stores, gyms and physical therapist offices. You can shut the band in a door and create a loop to tie around your leg or arm. Always flex your core muscles before performing an exercise. Start with a low number of repetitions and work up as you feel stronger.
    • Do an isometric/isotonic exercise video. Isometric exercises are static, keeping the joint still, while isotonic exercises are dynamic, using a motion to strengthen a muscle. These exercises can usually be done without many props. You can begin by watching the exercise videos at
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    Stop exercising immediately if you feel excess pressure on your weights. Rest after you are done with your workout and drink plenty of water. Start your exercise regime very slowly and work up in time and intensity as you feel stronger.


  • You should rest and avoid cardiovascular or strength training when your joints are very swollen or you are in extreme pain. Try small range of motion exercises and stretching if it is comfortable.
  • Search online or on community bulletin boards for local arthritis exercise groups. Hospitals, health clubs and arthritis organizations provide a number of weekly support groups. They may include walking clubs, classes or pool sessions.


  • Avoid high-impact workouts if you suffer from arthritis. Running, jogging and jumping cause stress on the joints that can lead to injury and more pain.

Things You'll Need

  • Doctor
  • Physical therapist
  • Local pool
  • Exercise videos
  • Resistance bands or weights
  • Supportive athletic shoes
  • Arthritis support group

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Categories: Health Care and Medical Information