According to ACE fitness expert Beth Shepard, it’s been shown that exercise has the ability to lessen arthritis joint pain and stiffness, as well as strengthen the muscles and tissue around the affected joints, which ultimately helps to improve overall quality of life. The key, Shepard says, is to stick with low-impact activities that promote mobility and help to build strength. Experts at The Arthritis Foundation agree: joint-friendly exercises that fit this description can help promote flexibility and pain relief and can possibly prevent pain from starting, too.
Here are just a few of the best exercises and activities, suggested by both The Arthritis Foundation and fitness experts alike, that you should consider as part of your prescription for relieving arthritis pain.
Note: Always consult your doctor before starting any new fitness program.
Yes, resistance activities like lifting weights, working with resistance bands and even some bodyweight exercises are recommended for arthritis relief. “Toning muscles so they are better able to support your body postures will decrease the forces on your joints,” says Joey Gochnour, an exercise physiologist, personal trainer and registered dietitian based in Austin, Texas. Plus, it also builds bone strength. However, because arthritis-related pain is localized and different between individuals it’s important to keep in mind that the exercises you should focus on most will depend on which joints are most affected by pain. For this reason, it’s advised that you work with an experienced personal trainer or physical therapist to achieve the best results.
Walking offers many health benefits and it’s one of the simplest ways to put your body in motion. Shepard recommends walking at a brisk pace for an effective aerobic workout, which also serves as a low-impact, weight-bearing workout for your lower body.
Whether it’s on your own or as part of a workout class, Shepard also suggests dancing as a fun, exciting and joint-friendly way to implement aerobic exercise in your fitness routine.
Also a low-impact and fairly simple aerobic workout, Shepard says that cycling falls in the same category as walking: an effective cardio workout that incorporates some lower-body resistance training.
If you enjoy working out in a gym setting, in addition to the stationary bike, the elliptical trainer is another great low-impact option that offers the benefits of a combination aerobic and lower-body weight-bearing workout.
For arthritis relief, certified health coach and personal trainer Clint Fuqua suggests exercises that encourage your joints to move slowly and deliberately. For this reason, activities like yoga and tai chi are commonly recommended for arthritis relief. According to The Arthritis Foundation, yoga is helpful because it improves flexibility, strengthens muscle and reduces stress, and recent studies have shown that yoga can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and reduce disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis. However, it’s important to avoid poses that cause you discomfort or strain.
Board-certified sports physical therapist Marisa R. D'Adamo says standing or laying still for too long without moving leads to joint stiffness. For this reason, she suggests incorporating more activity in your day-to-day routine, rather than designating just one block of time for exercise. This can include everything from walking your dog and taking the stairs when possible to parking your car farther from your destination and performing simple stretches every hour or so during periods of prolonged sitting.
The Arthritis Foundation also recommends Pilates as an effective way to incorporate both strengthening and stretching exercises in your fitness routine. It’s recommended that you work one-on-one with a certified teacher or in a class that addresses your specific needs. And just like with yoga, it’s important to move only in a range that is pain-free and to work at your own pace.
You might have to scale your game back a bit, but The Arthritis Foundation says golf is a healthy way to increase your physical activity and possibly help relieve arthritis-related pain. Not only does it engage your back, legs, shoulders, wrists and hands, but if you skip out on a cart you’ll get an aerobic workout walking from hole to hole. For safety and comfort, Robyn Stuhr, sports medicine program director at the University of California San Diego Department of Orthopedic Surgery, suggests wearing shoes with soft spikes, using clubs with a lightweight, graphite shaft and perimeter-weighted head (for better shock absorption), and pulling your bag in a wheeled cart. It’s also a good idea to perform a short warm-up before you start playing. However, if you find you’re hurting after a few holes, Stuhr says it’s better to stop playing rather than trying to push through.