Exercise is good for us: it keeps us supple, flexible and reduces the risk of illness. But it also has benefits for people living with arthritis. Here’s a guide put together by Keele University and Arthritis Research UK on exercises for arthritis.
Many people with osteoarthritis are worried about exercising because they believe it could cause further damage to their joints. However, joints are designed to move and inactivity can be harmful to the tissues in and around the joint, so keeping active can help your joints.
Benefits of exercise:
- Eases stiffness and improves flexibility
- Helps prevent loss of muscle strength
- Releases ‘feel good’ endorphins, which can act as natural painkillers
- Helps to manage body weight and reduce the strain on our joints
How do you get started?
It’s never too late to start exercising. If you think it would help you to get started, why not try joining a local exercise group or involve your friends and family.
Two important things to remember are to:
1) set realistic, achievable goals.
2) do exercise that you enjoy.
Doing this will help you to continue to be motivated to exercise.
The key to maximising the benefits of exercise is to do it regularly. Most people take a while to learn how much they can and can’t do. Just remember to build up slowly and pace yourself. If you feel that you may have overdone it, rest for that day and start again the next, but reduce the amount you were doing. Then gradually increase it again each day until you understand how much you can do.
You shouldn’t feel completely exhausted or in a lot more discomfort after exercising, although you should feel as if your muscles have done some work and have been stretched a little.
What should you wear
People can be unsure what to wear while exercising. Loose-fitting clothing that does not restrict movement that allows you to comfortably do the exercise is best.
What you wear on your feet is particularly important. Footwear needs to be well fitting, so your foot is held in place and does not slide around. A wider fit is better so your toes do not get squashed and soft, well-cushioned insoles may also provide some shock absorbency and protection for your joints.
What sort of exercise is important?
Exercise need not involve equipment and often the simplest exercises are the best.
General physical activity, such as walking, and specific muscle strengthening and stretching exercises are often recommended for people with osteoarthritis.
People living with osteoarthritis should do some general physical activity that makes them out of breath. For example, walking is a really good way to achieve health benefits. You need to start gently and set goals to gradually increase the amount you do.
It’s recommended that we should all aim to build up to 30 minutes of physical activity that makes us a bit short of breath five times a week. If you don’t have time for a 30-minute session, break it up into three or four 10-minute bouts throughout the day and build it into your normal daily routine.
Strengthening and Stretching Exercises
The following exercise options are useful if you’re experiencing problems with your knees, hips or hands. They keep your muscles strong so that they can help to support the joint and also keep your joints mobile. Doing these exercises three to five times per week is recommended.
For strengthening exercises, start with as many repetitions you can comfortably do and build up the number gradually. You should aim to complete between six and fifteen repetitions as this has been shown to achieve benefit.
For stretching exercises, you should slowly move as far as you can until you feel a stretch in the muscles around the joints and then hold still the position. At first, hold the stretch for as long you can safely. Ideally you should aim to build up to holding a stretch for up to 20 seconds.
- Sit on a chair and using one leg at a time, pull your toes up, tighten your thigh muscle and straighten your knee
- Stain in front of a chair holing on with both hands for support. Slowly crouch keeping your back straight and heels on the floor
- Begin with the palm of your hand on a towel on a table, fingers apart. Pull fingers together by pressing your hand down into the table and bunching up the towel between your fingers
- Bend the first two joints of your finders down and then straighten again
- Sit with knees bent and feet together. Press knees down towards the floor using hands as needed
- Lie on your back on a bed. Pull each knee in turn to your chest, keeping your other leg straight