Exercise for joint pain

Best exercises for rheumatoid arthritis pain

The following types of exercise may help relieve the pain, joint stiffness, and other symptoms that RA can cause:

1. Stretching

Share on PinterestWalking can help with joint health.

Stretching can help improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and increase range of motion. Stretching daily, ideally in the morning, is important for relieving RA symptoms.

The ideal stretching routine will be different for each person and will depend on which joints are affected and what symptoms occur. However, stretches often involve slowly and gently moving the joints of the knees, hands, and elbows.

A typical stretching routine may consist of:

  • Warming up by walking in place or pumping the arms while sitting or standing for 3–5 minutes.
  • Holding each stretch for 10–20 seconds before releasing it.
  • Repeating each stretch 2–3 times. Using a yoga strap may help people maintain proper form while stretching.

Many people will find it beneficial to work with a physical therapist who understands RA to learn the correct way to perform the stretches that meet their personal needs.

2. Walking

Walking is a low-impact form of exercise that can help with aerobic conditioning, heart and joint health, and mood.

It is essential to wear proper shoes and stay hydrated, even if the walking is not strenuous. It is often sensible to walk slowly initially and then increase the pace when possible.

3. Flowing movements, such as tai chi and yoga

Both tai chi and yoga combine deep breathing, flowing movements, gentle poses, and meditation. They increase flexibility, balance, and range of motion while also reducing stress.

It is possible to buy DVDs of tai chi or yoga workouts that are specifically for people with RA.

4. Pilates

Pilates is a low-impact activity that stabilizes the joints and strengthens the muscles around them. People new to Pilates should begin with a routine that uses a mat rather than a machine to build muscle strength safely.

5. Water exercises

Water helps support body weight, which means that water exercises do not impact heavily on the joints.

Swimming, water aerobics, and other gentle water exercises can increase flexibility, range of motion, strength, and aerobic conditioning. They can also reduce joint stress and stiffness.

6. Cycling

As RA increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is vital to keep the heart as healthy as possible. Riding a stationary bike can be a safe way to get the joints moving and improve cardiovascular fitness.

In addition to improving aerobic conditioning, cycling can reduce stiffness, increase range of motion and leg strength, and build endurance.

7. Strength training

Strengthening the muscles around the affected joints can help increase strength while reducing pain and other RA symptoms.

Using a resistance band is one of the best ways to challenge the body and build muscle over time. A physical therapist who works with people with RA should be able to offer guidance on suitable exercises.

8. Hand exercises

RA can sometimes lead to limited use of the hands. Bending the wrists up and down, slowly curling the fingers, spreading the fingers wide on a table, and squeezing a stress ball can all help increase strength and flexibility in the hands.

9. Gardening

As well as being a form of exercise, gardening offers the benefit of improving mood. People should be gentle with their body, work slowly, and avoid overstraining the muscles and joints.

7 Exercises to Help Relieve Joint Pain

The joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and fatigue that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience can make you want to stay on the couch. The less movement, the less risk for pain, right?

Wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Regular exercise can actually help ease joint pain and other RA symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “People who exercise have improved daily function, decreased depression and fatigue, reduced pain, and improved sleep,” says Hareth Madhoun, DO, a rheumatologist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in and around Columbus, Ohio.

A review published in April 2017 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews looked at multiple studies that covered the effect of physical exercise on chronic pain and found evidence suggesting positive effects overall (with the caveat that more quality research is needed). There’s little downside to exercise, the researchers concluded, and the valuable benefits of staying active include improved physical function, less severity of pain in joints and other areas, and improvements in quality of life.

Hensley suggests people with RA do aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, or biking three to five times a week, eventually working up to sessions of 30 to 60 minutes each. Just be sure to talk to your doctor about your exercise plans before you get started.

For people with RA, fatigue may be a big obstacle in staying active. Research published in the Israel Medical Association Journal in January 2014 found that 40 to 80 percent of people with RA claim symptoms like weakness, lack of energy, and tiredness are the most debilitating part of the disease. Especially when accompanied by joint pain, fatigue can be a huge deterrent to getting regular exercise.

If this is happening to you, Dr. Madhoun suggests remembering that decreased activity actually “results in reduced muscle strength and ultimately can lead to increased arthritis pain and disability.”

In other words, don’t use RA as an excuse not to exercise. Instead, make it your reason to get moving. Start with these seven expert-recommended RA exercises.

Additional reporting by Andrea Peirce

The secret to joint pain relief — exercise

Joint pain: it throbs, aches, and hurts. It may make you think twice about everyday tasks and pleasures like going for a brisk walk, lifting grocery bags, or playing your favorite sport. Sharp reminders of your limitations arrive thick and fast, practically every time you move.

What causes joint pain?

The culprits behind joint pain tend to be:

  • osteoarthritis
  • old injuries
  • repetitive or overly forceful movements during sports or work
  • posture problems
  • aging
  • inactivity

How exercise can help

Ignoring the pain won’t make it go away. Nor will avoiding all motions that spark discomfort. In fact, limiting your movements can weaken muscles, compounding joint trouble, and affect your posture, setting off a cascade of further problems. And while pain relievers and cold or hot packs may offer quick relief, fixes like these are merely temporary.

By contrast, the right set of exercises can be a long-lasting way to tame ankle, knee, hip, or shoulder pain. Practiced regularly, joint pain relief workouts might permit you to postpone — or even avoid — surgery on a problem joint that has been worsening for years by strengthening key supportive muscles and restoring flexibility. Over time, you may find limitations you’ve learned to work around will begin to ease. Tasks and opportunities for fun that have been weeded out of your repertoire by necessity may come back into reach, too.

Beyond the benefits to your joints, becoming more active can help you stay independent long into your later years. Regular activity is good for your heart and sharpens the mind. It nudges blood pressure down and morale up, eases stress, and shaves off unwanted pounds. Perhaps most importantly, it lessens your risk of dying prematurely. All of this can be achieved at a comfortable pace and very low cost in money or time.

For more on developing and mastering a plan to relieve your joint pain, buy The Joint Pain Relief Workout, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

The Joint Pain Relief Workout

Is joint pain holding you back? Perhaps an achy ankle or sore knee is making it difficult to enjoy a run through your favorite park or even a short walk? Or a throbbing hip or shoulder prevents you from driving a golf ball down the fairway or from performing simple tasks like carrying a bag of groceries into your home? The exercises in this report can help relieve ankle, knee, hip, or shoulder pain, and help you become more active again, which in turn can help you stay independent long into your later years.

The Joint Pain Relief Workout, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, was designed by knowledgeable exercise experts. The workouts they created are intended to strengthen the muscles that support your joints, increase flexibility in your joints, and improve range of motion. Done regularly, these exercises can ease pain, improve mobility, and help prevent further injury.

The report includes four workouts that target your ankles, hips, knees, and shoulders. You’ll find detailed instructions for each exercise, as well as information on how to adapt each exercise to make it either harder or easier, so you can tailor it to your ability. In addition, the report includes mini-workouts to address wrist and elbow problems, a planning worksheet to help you get started and stay motivated, and answers to common exercise questions.

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