Exercise is important for women with rheumatoid arthritis because the right exercises can help relieve joint pain and build muscle strength. There are three main groups of exercises women with RA should incorporate into their regular fitness routine: stretching, strength training and cardio.
More: These Are the Best Exercises to Improve Heart Health
- Listen to your body
- 1. Hamstring stretch
- 2. Chest stretch
- 3. Row with resistance band
- 4. Chest press with resistance band
- 5. Slow step-up
- 6. Walking
- 7. Recumbent bike or elliptical
- 8. Basic yoga or yoga stretch
- 9. Group fitness classes
- Water Exercises to Ease Arthritis Pain: 8 Moves You Will Love Doing
- Why Water Workouts Are Good for Your Joints
- Is Water Exercise for Arthritis the Same as Swimming Laps?
- Precautions to Keep in Mind Before You Exercise in the Water
- Water Exercises to Ease Arthritis Pain
- Keep Reading
- Your Exercise Solution
- Meet Our Partners
- Causes, Types and Symptoms
- Treatment of Arthritis
- Swimming With Arthritis
Listen to your body
Before we get into the exercises, it’s important to start out slow and build up strength as you go to avoid discomfort and injury. If your joints are inflamed or you’re not feeling well, rest and drink plenty of water. Once you feel better and are able to resume activity, listen to your body and talk to your doctor if there are any lingering issues.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program and to find a treatment plan that will keep your arthritis under control so you can enjoy a more active lifestyle.
That said, here are 10 exercises that every woman with RA should be doing on a regular basis.
1. Hamstring stretch
Lie flat on your back and slowly draw one knee into your chest. Hold for 8 to 10 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat 3 to 6 times, then switch legs.
2. Chest stretch
Place your forearm flat against a wall. Keep your arm at a 90-degree angle and gently lean forward until you feel a stretch through the upper portion of your shoulder and chest. Hold for 8 to 10 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat 3 to 6 times.
3. Row with resistance band
Wrap a resistance band around a sturdy object in front of you. Hold the ends of the band in each hand with your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing each other. Make sure the band is tight.
Contract your upper back muscles and pull the band toward you, bending your elbows, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Slowly return to starting position and repeat 10 to 15 times.
4. Chest press with resistance band
Wrap a resistance band around a stable object behind you. Hold the ends of the band taut in each hand, palms down, with the band on top of your arms. Squeeze your chest and press your arms forward at shoulder level. Bring your arms to full extension, taking not to lock your elbow joints. Return to starting position and repeat 10 to 15 times.
More: Top 10 Functional Exercises for a Full-Body Workout
5. Slow step-up
Place a step board or a low platform in front of you (if your home has stairs, use the bottom step). Stand about 12 to 24 inches from the board, then step up with your right foot and lift your left knee up slowly. Return to start position. Repeat on the right side 10 to 15 times, then switch sides.
Walking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise that you can do almost anywhere. Start out slow on a flat course. As you build up strength and endurance, increase your time and even try some small hills.
7. Recumbent bike or elliptical
If you have access to a gym, the recumbent bike or elliptical trainer provides a great low-impact workout. Start with 10 to 15 minutes, two to three days a week.
8. Basic yoga or yoga stretch
Yoga is great for relaxing, and it can aid in improving flexibility in stiff joints. Some poses may cause discomfort for RA sufferers, so be sure to speak with your instructor about modifications.
More: 12 Basic Yoga Poses for Beginners & How to Do Them
9. Group fitness classes
A low-impact fitness class is a great way to have fun and work out at the same time. Check the class schedule at your local gym and talk with a trainer or instructor to decide which class would be the best for you. If available, water aerobics is a great option for those with joint pain.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2010.
Water Exercises to Ease Arthritis Pain: 8 Moves You Will Love Doing
Let’s get this little misconception out of the way: Water exercise is not just for senior citizens with joint pain. Water exercise for people with arthritis is for all ages at all levels of ability and disability, says Julie Mulcahy, DPT, physical therapist with McLaren Health Management Group, a Michigan-based organization that provides home health care.
From water walking to water aerobics, and even water Zumba, aquatic exercise programs can be modified to any fitness need — from a gentle range-of-motion and floating routine to high-level intensity workouts for athletes.
For people with arthritis, recent research has shown that water exercise can be a safe and effective exercise option. One study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who did water-based exercises three times a week for sixteen weeks saw significant improvements in disease activity, pain, and functional capacity compared to those who did land-based exercises. And in a recent Cochrane Review of 13 trials that included 1,190 patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis (OA), researchers found aquatic exercise may help improve pain and function.
Why Water Workouts Are Good for Your Joints
Think of the pool as “nature’s body weight support system.” It can unload up to almost 90 percent of your body weight, according to experts at the American Physical Therapy Association. That buoyancy makes moving in the water easier on the joints. “It allows you to perform movement with an arthritic joint that would be painful on land, which then helps improve strength and flexibility in that joint,” explains Dr. Mulcahy, who also works with Physera, an app-based platform for physical therapy. For example, it may be tough to perform a squat on land with knee OA, but in the water, the squat is more doable.
Water exercise puts less stress on your joints
“Exercise in the water removes the impact stress of ground reaction force,” explains Lauren Shroyer, MS, senior director of product development at the American Council on Exercise. The impact of stepping on the pool floor is significantly less than stepping on dry land. “When joints are inflamed and painful during weight-bearing exercise, working out in the water allows you to experience the advantages of movement without the negative consequence of impact,” she explains.
Water exercise puts more resistance on your muscles
It takes more effort to walk from one side of the pool to the other in the water than it does out of the water. That’s because water provides greater resistance than air — up to 12 times more, says Dr. Mulcahy. That resistance to your movements not only helps strengthen muscles, but also burns more calories to help you lose weight faster. The faster you move, the higher the resistance.
Water exercise boosts cardiovascular fitness
Water exercise works your whole body in multiple directions and promotes smooth movements (instead of quick, jerky motions), says Dr. Mulcahy. It also allows you to work at a higher level that you could tolerate on land, which helps improve mobility and strengthen cardiovascular endurance. “Patients with chronic joint conditions often say they feel free from their disability when in the water,” she adds.
Is Water Exercise for Arthritis the Same as Swimming Laps?
Not exactly. One big difference is the water temperature, says Dr. Mulcahy. “Many arthritis water exercise programs are conducted in hotter water, which is meant for low-intensity exercise and more soothing for arthritic joints,” she explains. Pool temps for a water exercise classes for people with arthritis range from 92 to 98 degrees F.
Lap swimming, on the other hand, is a moderate intensity exercise that requires a cooler pool, with a water temperature between 83 and 88 degrees F, says Dr. Mulcahy. “Swimming laps in water that’s too warm, such as 90 degrees F or greater, can lead to exhaustion and overheating,” she says.
Lap swimming, however, is also great exercise for people with arthritis. It has little impact on joints, lengthens muscles, and improves cardiovascular fitness.
Precautions to Keep in Mind Before You Exercise in the Water
Regular exercise is an important part of your arthritis treatment plan, and your doctor will recommend it — whether you have osteoarthritis or an autoimmune, inflammatory form such as rheumatoid arthritis. But before you try any water exercise program, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to make sure pool exercises are right for you.
Here are more tips before getting started:
Consider your gear. Water shoes will give you extra traction on the pool floor. If you are exercising in deeper water, use a Styrofoam noodle or flotation vest to keep you afloat. You can also use Styrofoam weights or a kickboard for increased resistance.
Stay hydrated. You won’t notice if you’re sweating with pool exercises, so be sure to drink plenty of water.
Stop if anything hurts. “Listen to the pain,” says Shroyer. Take a break when your joint starts to ache. If you feel any new joint pain, it’s time to stop. Talk to your doctor about what pain is normal and when it’s a sign of something more serious.
Water Exercises to Ease Arthritis Pain
Many aquatic centers, YMCAs, and community pools have water exercise classes designed for people with arthritis. The following water exercises were recommended by Shroyer at ACE and Dr. Mulcahy, and are inspired by some of the exercises here and here.
- Stand in waist- or chest-high water.
- Walk 10 to 20 steps forward, then walk backward. Repeat.
- For added resistance, increase your speed.
- Stand in waist- or chest-high water (near a pool wall for support, if needed).
- Take an oversized lunge step in a forward direction, without letting your forward knee go past your toes.
- Return to start position and repeat with other leg.
- Stand in waist- or chest-high water, facing the pool wall.
- Take sideways steps with your body and toes facing the wall.
- Take 10 to 20 steps in one direction and then return. Repeat in the other direction.
- Stand in waist- or chest-high water, with the pool wall on the right side of your body for support.
- Kick your left leg forward, keeping your knee straight; then return to start position.
- Kick your left leg out to the side; then return to start position.
- Kick your left leg behind you; then return to start position.
- Turn so the pool wall is on your right side and repeat movements with your left leg.
- Stand in chest-high water, with your feet together and hands at your side.
- Jump your feet out to a straddle and bring your hands up to the top of the water level, keeping them in the water.
- Return to start position, and repeat as quickly as comfortable.
- For added resistance, hold foam water dumbbells. (You may need to slow down the motion when using water dumbbells.)
- Stand in chest-high water.
- Lift your right leg, with your knee bent and hip rotated open, and tap the inside of your ankle with your left hand.
- Lower to start position, and repeat with the opposite side.
- Alternate sides as quickly as is comfortable.
- Stand in chest-high water.
- Keeping your body in the water, quickly pull your knees up toward your armpits (with your knees wide and heels toward your groin), while reaching your hands down to touch your feet as they come up to about the level of your hips.
- Return to start position, and repeat as quickly as comfortable.
- Stand in waist- or chest-high water.
- Hinge your hips and bend your knees, lowering your body into a squat position with your arms reaching forward.
- Jump up, coming out of the water, drawing your arms to your sides.
- Land on the balls of your feet and lower your heels, bending your knees and hips into a squat landing.
- Repeat as quickly as comfortable.
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Your Exercise Solution
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Welcome to another post in our series on Health & You. I’m Dr. Pool – not a medical doctor mind you, more of a pool physician.
Today’s topic centers around one of life’s chronic illnesses which afflicts millions of people worldwide, and can be helped with water exercise.
I’m speaking of arthritis and other forms of rheumatic disease.
Arthritis is estimated to be a problem for 67% of the population within the next 15 years. Even though there is no confirmed cure, there are ways to combat symptoms and treat arthritis. Water exercise is a good arthritis treatment to reduce pain & swelling.
Today’s lecture on Arthritis & Swimming will cover three main areas:
- Causes, Types and Symptoms of Arthritis
- Treatment of Arthritis
- Swimming with Arthritis
Causes, Types and Symptoms
Arthritis is the pain and stiffness in one’s body that is caused by swelling in the joints. Arthritis can even affect or cause problems in the eye or skin. Swollen joints can suffer severe damage, and with growth of the population, it is estimated that by 2030, 67% will suffer from arthritis. Arthritis generally affects elderly individuals; however there are forms of arthritis that can affect others at an early age.
Most types of arthritis can be caused from several factors combined –
- Person’s genetic makeup
- Physically demanding job; especially with repetitive movement
- Previous Injury
- Autoimmune diseases
- Obesity (causes more strain to be placed on joints)
- Certain foods can cause symptoms of arthritis
Additionally, some infections or allergic reactions can cause short term arthritis, but when an infection causes arthritis, it is known as “reactive arthritis”. Arthritis can come with simple ‘wear and tear’ of the joints as well.
Symptoms vary based on the type of arthritis. For instance, Osteoarthritis symptoms develop over a slower period of time and get worse. Joints will be stiff including first thing in the morning. Use of the joint becomes more difficult as it loses flexibility. There may be a grating sensation when the joint is used, and the joint can swell with inflammation. The most affected areas that are affected include the hips, hands, knees and spine.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include painfully swollen joints – the fingers, legs, arms and wrists are most commonly affected. Symptoms are the worst when waking up; the stiffness lasts for 30 minutes or more. Many who have rheumatoid arthritis feel tired often; fatigued. Weight loss can occur as activity is reduced. Arthritis pain sometimes will spread from small joints in the hands, wrists, ankles and feet to the elbows, knees, hips, neck, shoulders or jaw.
Infectious arthritis can show itself with a fever, joint inflammation and swelling. There is sharp pain or tenderness felt, and many times this can be linked to a preexisting injury or illness. Usually, just one joint is affected, and it can be from the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist or finger.
Another form of arthritis is Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, so named because it afflicts children. Symptoms include intermittent fevers that peak in the evening and disappear. Appetite is poor and because of this patients often lose weight. Like adult arthritis, JA sufferers may experience joint pain and swelling.
Treatment of Arthritis
What are some ways to treat arthritis? Physical therapy and occupational therapy will help maintain some of the joint mobility and range of motion for an individual, but the kind of therapy required depends on a number of factors such as the patient’s age, the type of arthritis, etc. It should be discussed with a physician or physical therapist / occupational therapist.
In some cases, physical therapy not only reduces the pain, but can also delay the need to have surgical intervention. Occupational therapy teaches one to reduce the strain on joints throughout daily life. Occupational therapists can help you alter and modify your work and home so movements you make will not irritate arthritis or add to the pain.
Occupational therapy can also teach you how to rest. Rest is necessary for treating pain, even when multiple joints are affected or you feel tired. Resting individual joints can be helpful as well – splints can be customized for better resting and more support for joints.
Finally, physical activity is important for improving the symptoms of arthritis. Inactivity could be harmful for most patients that suffer from arthritis, and can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Muscles will get weaker without exercise, and joints will get stiffer. Those who are physically active and have arthritis generally will enjoy better health than those who suffer from arthritis and are not getting regular exercise.
Swimming With Arthritis
If it hurts too much to walk or to utilize other physical activity, it can often be helpful to exercise in a warm swimming pool. Because of the buoyancy, water will take the weight off of the joints and allows you to recondition. Pool exercise is actually more effective than regular walking, when it comes to arthritis pain.
Arthritis pain and stiffness can be relieved from the soothing warmth and buoyancy of pool water, and water aerobics provides a gentle way to exercise muscles and joints. Just being in warm water allows your blood vessels to dilate and increase circulation due to the raise in body temperature. Additionally, the water acts as a resistance, which builds up the muscle strength.
Spas or hot tubs can be used as well, at a temp of 90-100°, to relax tight muscles. Small radius motion joint exercises, and stretching exercises can be safely done from a sitting position.
Because water has 12 times the amount of resistance that air provides, movement in the water helps increase bone density and strengthen the muscles as well as improve coordination and balance. It is also recommended that daily exercise be changed to avoid joint strain from repetitive exercise motions.
Swimming is very effective for those with Arthritis, helping to keep your joints limber. Warm water exercise is recommended often by doctors, as it provides an aerobic workout in a low impact environment, without stress on aching joints.
Get your swim on, America!
References: “What Is Arthritis? What Causes Arthritis?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 24 Nov. 2013. Web. Roizen, Michael. “Why Can Exercising in a Swimming Pool Help Heal Arthritis?” – Arthritis Treatment. Share Care, n.d. Web. Miller, Christine. “Swimming and Water Exercise: Great for Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Health Central. N.p., 19 Feb. 2008. Web. Ochs, Carol. “Is Swimming the Best Exercise for Arthritis?” LIVESTRONG.COM. 21 Oct. 2013. Web.