Although studies show exercise can ease joint pain and stiffness caused by arthritis, a surprising number of people suffering from the condition do not follow federally-recommended guidelines for physical activity, according to research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
When scientists tracked the activity levels of more than 1,000 study participants with knee osteoarthritis, they found that only 13 percent of men and 8 percent of women completed the recommended amount of exercise. This is unfortunate news, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call physical activity “The Arthritis Pain Reliever.”
“It’s clearly shown that if people can strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint, they can improve pain,” said Kristin Baker, assistant research professor for the Clinical Epidemiology Research and Training Center at Boston University Medical School.
Without exercise, the effects of arthritis can also extend beyond physical symptoms.
“This disease stops people from doing the things they love to do,” said Grant R. Koster, a physical therapist, athletic trainer and strength conditioning specialist at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, and who also sits on the board of directors for the Arthritis Foundation. “When people stop [these activities], their mental and social health starts to retreat. That’s the thing about the disease I really don’t like: It compounds the physical, the emotional and the social because of its debilitating nature.”
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation. In the United States alone, the disorder affects 50 million—or one in five—Americans, and arthritis is believed to cost $128 billion in medical care and lost wages, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Based on scientific studies and the experience of Koster and Baker, we’ve compiled a list of recommended range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobic exercises that can help relieve arthritis. Before beginning any exercise program, you should check with your doctor or physical therapist. These professionals can help you better understand the condition, your unique limitations, and the right treatment.
“By knowing what kind of arthritis you have, how severe it is, and where it is, you can partner with a physical therapist to help design a program for your specific needs,” Koster said.