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No Pain, No Gain Isn't True of Arthritis, But Exercise Is Still Important

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Recent studies have shown that exercise may acually help people with arthritis in a number of ways. It can reduce joint pain and stiffness. It can increase flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance. And it can also help with weight reduction and contribute to an improved sense of well-being.

Most comprehensive arthritis treatment plans should include an exercise regiment. Rest and relaxation, proper diet, medication, and instruction about proper use of joints and ways to conserve energy (that is, not to waste motion), as well as the use of pain relief methods should also be included in treatment plans.

What types of exercises are best for people with arthritis? Try these three:

Range-of-motion exercises to help maintain normal joint movement, relieve stiffness, and increase flexibility.

Strengthening exercises to help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis.

Aerobic or endurance exercises to improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight, and improve overall function. Weight control can be important to people who have arthritis because extra weight puts extra pressure on joints.

As always, people with arthritis should discuss their options with their doctors before starting on an exercise program. Easy, range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics are gennerally a good way to get started. And make sure to ask your doctor about any sports or exercise programs in which you currently participate. Some programs may do more harm than good.

You should also be aware that your doctor may decide to refer you to a physical therapist. A therapist with experience in arthritis can design an appropriate home exercise program and teach you about pain-relief methods, proper body mechanics, joint protection, and conserving energy.

So what's the best way to get going?

First, always first, discuss your exercise plans with your doctor.

Next, start with supervision from a physical therapist or a qualified athletic trainer.

Apply heat to sore joints.

Stretch and warm up with range-of-motion exercises.

Start strengthening exercises slowly with small weights (a 1 or 2 pound weight can make a big difference).

Progress slowly.

Use cold packs after exercising.

Add aerobic exercise.

Ease off if joints become painful, inflamed, or red and work with your doctor to find the cause and eliminate it.

Like any exercise program, choose a program you enjoy and make it a habit.

Range-of-motion exercises should be done at least every other day. Strengthening exercises also should be done at least every other day unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints. Endurance exercises should be done for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.

Additional information on arthritis and exercise can be found at the following resources:

Arthritis Foundation
The Foundation publishes a free pamphlet on exercise and arthritis and a monthly magazine for members that provides up-to-date information on all forms of arthritis.
http://www.arthritis.org

Spondylitis Association of America (SAA)
SAA sells books, posters, videotapes, and audiotapes about exercises for people who have arthritis of the spine.
http://www.spondylitis.org

American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals
This association provides referrals to physical therapists who have experience designing exercise programs for people with arthritis. The organization also provides exercise guidelines developed by the American College of Rheumatology.
http://www.rheumatology.org

Copyright © 2005 David B. Silva


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