Until recently, osteoarthritis was managed by limiting movement in the body. The theory behind this was that by limiting joint actions, you could reduce the pain. Doctors have since learned that exercise is an important part of pain management for osteoarthritis. Why the change in management options?
Exercise is a natural way to manage pain among those with osteoarthritis. The Arthritis Foundation states that moving the joints in a light manner through a range of motion is an effective way to reduce debilitating pain.2 The key to managing pain caused by arthritis is to move the joints. Moving them, in many cases, is easier said than done. According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 44 percent of individuals with arthritis are considered to be inactive.3
Don’t let this statistic deter you. Osteoarthritis exercises may help to control the pain in your joints and increase your overall health. Below are exercises you can perform regularly to help reduce your pain in the joints and improve your health.
Remember that prior to starting an exercise program, it’s best to check with your doctor or qualified healthcare provider to develop an exercise plan that is right for you.
Warm-up for Osteoarthritis Exercises
You need to get your body ready for osteoarthritis exercises by getting the blood moving. Simply start with light marching in place, light walking, light squats, lunges, arm circles, leg and hip circles, and any light range-of-motion activities that increase heart rate and warm the joints. Your warm-up should last about 5-7 minutes.
Walking may be hard on your joints, so it’s not the best exercise when your hips and knees are already in pain. Cycling, on the other hand, is perfect for moving the ball-and-socket joint in the hips while keeping your knees comfortable. Find a recumbent, upright, or spin bike and exercise thirty minutes every day on the bike.
One of the best exercises for osteoarthritis therapy is the pool. A 2007 physical therapy study showed that pool therapy helped to reduce pain and joint stiffness, as well as increase muscle strength in arthritis patients who received 6 weeks of therapy, versus those who did not.4
If you have access to a pool at a gym or your home, you can use pool weights and perform light jogging, biceps curls, arm circles, trunk twists, leg kicks, flutter kicks, toe jumps, and squats. Do this every day to strengthen muscles around the joints.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s ideal to have warmer water, which helps muscles to relax and stretch easier. If you have control over the temperature, 83°F – 88°F is recommended.
While heavy lifting is not a commonly-recommended activity for people who have osteoarthritis, light weight lifting for beginners might have substantial benefits. If you are an experienced weight lifter, consider power exercises (in a controlled manner) to add muscle mass around your joints and to protect them. Lift weights about two to three times per week.
If you have not lifted weights before, it’s important to consult with your doctor and/or receive proper instruction at a gym or from a certified trainer.
Recommended Frequency and Duration of Osteoarthritis Exercises
You should exercise at a minimum of three days per week when you have osteoarthritis and for at least 30 minutes each day. For added benefits in managing pain and body weight, consider exercising more than 30 minutes daily. Consult with your doctor, of course, before doing so.
Avoid Staying Put
Reduce joint pain and stiffness by eliminating the amount of time sitting during the day. Regardless of whether you work in front of your computer or at home in front of the television, set an alarm clock on your phone to go off every 30 minutes. When the alarm sounds, this is your time to stop your sedentary behavior and move around. Light range of motion activities like those suggested above may have a large impact on your health and could help manage your osteoarthritis symptoms.
2 Arthritis Foundation. Exercising with Osteoarthritis. Available at http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/benefits/osteoarthritis-exercise.php. Accessed October 14, 2015.
3 Shih M, Hootman JM, Kruger J, Helmick CG. (2006). Physical Activity in Men and Women with Arthritis. Available at http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(06)00010-9/references. Accessed October 14, 2015.
4 Hinman RS, Heywood SE, Day AR. (2007). Aquatic physical therapy for hip and knee osteoarthritis: results of a single-blind randomized controlled trial. Physical Therapy, Vol. 87 issue 1, pp. 32-43. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17142642. Accessed October 14, 2015.