When it comes to treating the symptoms of arthritis, medication is almost always necessary, but treatment doesn’t stop there. Following an individualized exercise program developed by a skilled medical professional or physical therapist can also help relieve pain and stiffness that occur as a result of the disease.
“Patients suffering from arthritis have joint stiffness and a reduced range of motion, which means that these joints are only able to move a fraction of what they were intended to. But this doesn’t have to be an excuse not to exercise; it’s an opportunity to find the right exercise for your condition,” explains Troy Norton, outpatient operations manager at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital and the Main Line Health Exton Square.
Besides relieving some of the pain associated with arthritis, exercise can also increase flexibility and build muscle strength and endurance and help protect your joints from additional damage, and may reduce the need for pain medication. The more you exercise, the easier the movements become.
So where should you start? An evaluation by a physical therapist or another licensed medical professional who can develop a safe and effective customized exercise program. An evaluation is important before you begin any exercise program. Below, Norton recommends some general guidelines for aerobic and strengthening exercises for patients with arthritis.
If you’re suffering from joint pain in your knees, feet, or ankles, try biking, as it puts less pressure on those joints than other aerobic activities do. Not a fan of biking? You can also try walking, low-impact dancing, or certain aerobic workouts like yoga or Pilates, which can increase your range of motion.
Swimming is a popular aerobic exercise for those suffering from arthritis. Simple stretching movements like knee bends, raises, or swings done underwater as opposed to out of water help to lessen pain and stress on the joints.
For patients experiencing hand or wrist pain as a result of arthritis, chances are that aerobic exercise isn’t going to provide the pain-free results you need. Instead, try simple repetitive movements to reduce swelling and increase your range of motion.
“For someone with hand pain, just flexing and extending your fingers a little more each day or straightening and bending your wrist can have results in decreasing pain and increasing flexibility,” explains Norton.
Remember to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what exercises are right for you. Depending on which joints are affected by arthritis, you may need to follow a specific regimen, and your doctor might also be able to recommend a physical therapist or therapy program.