Arthritis & Exercise

Arthritis is a general term that describes more than 150 different conditions that cause pain, stiffness and often inflammation in one or more joints. Exercise can reduce some of the symptoms of arthritis and improve joint mobility and strength.

People with arthritis should choose their type of exercise carefully. Be guided by your doctor, health professional or physiotherapist.

Osteoarthritis is common; Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Normally the two bones of a joint are cushioned with a strong flexible tissue called cartilage. In osteoarthritis the cartilage deteriorates, causing pain and stiffness. Cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply. Instead it relies on synovial fluid moving in and out of the joint to nourish it and take away waste products. Exercise helps this process, reducing some symptoms of arthritis.

Exercise can relieve symptoms; Regular, gentle exercise can have many benefits for people with arthritis. Exercise can:

  • Facilitate joint nourishment.
  • Ease pain and joint stiffness and improve flexibility.
  • Build muscular strength and improve balance.
  • Reduce joint deformity and improve posture.
  • Reduce the effects of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) by maintaining bone density.
  • Improve overall health and fitness and lower stress levels.
  • Help maintain a healthy body weight.

Different types of exercise; an inflamed, hot or painful joint needs rest, however too little exercise can cause muscle weakness, pain and stiffness. People with arthritis should do some form of physical activity every day; such as as::

  • Mobility exercises – such as stretching, to maintain or improve the joint’s range of motion and flexibility.
  • Strength exercises – such as weight-bearing exercises, to build muscle strength and provide stability to the joint, and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
  • Aerobic exercises – such as walking or cycling, to improve cardiovascular fitness.

Useful exercises; many different types of exercise are suitable for people with arthritis, including:

  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Chair exercises
  • Low impact aerobics and strength training
  • Tai Chi/Yoga/Pilaties.

General cautions and suggestions; your doctor, health or fitness professional can advise you in detail. General suggestions on safe exercising include::

  • See your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you have had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon or physiotherapist which movements you should limit or avoid.
  • Don’t exercise a painful, inflamed or hot joint. You can move the joint gently through its range of movement several times to help reduce stiffness and improve circulation.
  • Start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months.
  • Warm up thoroughly beforehand. Cool down after exercise with gentle, sustained stretches.
  • Pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of motion.
  • If your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session.
  • If an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what is normal then stop this activity.
  • Increase incidental activity in your lifestyle. For example, walk to nearby shops instead of driving.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Physiotherapist/Osteopath
  • Local fitness or aquatic centre
  • Local community health centre
  • Arthritis Victoria Tel. (03) 8531 8000.

Things to remember

  • Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
  • An inflamed, hot or painful joint needs rest.
  • Exercise programs should be devised in consultation with your doctor, physiotherapist or health and fitness professional.