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Osteoarthritis and Exercise

Updated on August 2, 2016
Anyone suffering from arthritis can find relief and improvement with the right exercise.
Anyone suffering from arthritis can find relief and improvement with the right exercise. | Source

According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 27 million people in the U.S. alone suffer with osteoarthritis.

Also called degenerative arthritis, it is one of the most common forms, and is caused by the wearing down of protective cartilage from bone edges. Osteoarthritis usually effects the weight-bearing joints like knees, hips and back, though it can also occur in the hands, neck and elsewhere in the body.


Osteoarthritis Symptoms include:

  • Stiffness in joints after sleeping or after being inactive for a time
  • Pain during or after movement of the affected joint
  • Loss of flexibility or joint tenderness.
  • Bone spurs
  • Loss of motion in the joint.

As of now no cure exists, but treatment can slow down the stages of progression and help relieve symptoms.

Obesity, hereditary muscle weakness and a more sedentary lifestyle can bring on or contribute to the effects of arthritis. Fortunately, certain types of exercise have proven to be a successful part of treatment. Staying active is the most effective way to reduce pain and help improve flexibility.

Exercises For Arthritis Treatment

Going to a physical therapist is a good start in dealing with arthritis. A trained therapist can design an individual fitness plan, with the goal of strengthening the muscles around the effected joint.


Note: To be safe, a doctor's appointment needs to be the first stop when getting ready to start any kind of workout program.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tai chi moves stretch and relax the muscles.Lifting weights gets the muscles strong so they can better support the joints.Walking the dog is a great excuse to get out and exercise!
Tai chi moves stretch and relax the muscles.
Tai chi moves stretch and relax the muscles. | Source
Lifting weights gets the muscles strong so they can better support the joints.
Lifting weights gets the muscles strong so they can better support the joints. | Source
Walking the dog is a great excuse to get out and exercise!
Walking the dog is a great excuse to get out and exercise! | Source

Three Categories of Exercises To Help With Arthritis

  • Stretching (flexibility) exercises should be done every day, building up to 15 minutes a session. Gentle stretching is a great way to "wake up" the joints and muscles in the morning, to relieve stiffness. And both yoga and tai chi can help to refresh and realign the body anytime.
  • Strengthening (isometric and isotonic) exercises use weight or resistance to make the muscles work harder than regular daily movement. As a result, those muscles will better protect and lesson stress on the joints. These exercises should be done every other day, leaving a day of rest between sessions.
  • Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises consist of continuous activity using large muscle groups. The lungs and heart work faster and burn oxygen at a more efficient rate than normal activity. Ideally, workouts should be about 30 minutes three to four times a week.

Note: If a a regular exercise program is faithfully followed, the pain of arthritis decreases, and other benefits will come: better sleep and less stress, stronger bones and increased endurance.

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Watch Some Exercises For Arthritis Relief

Exercise Cautions & Tips

1. Learn the technique of each exercise before starting.

Taking a little extra time to practice doing it right will protect the body from injury.

2. Don't overdue, especially at first.

Allow time to build up to a full workout.

3. Set personal goals, and celebrate reaching them.
Keeping smaller "markers" in mind helps show progress - that helps motivation grow.

4. Do something every day.
Even the busiest days can allow for some sort of exercise - a few stretches in the morning, a short walk during lunch or after dinner, one set of the strengthening moves. Being active each day is what counts.

Sample Plan

A few years ago, I injured my back. It seemed to heal, but later I started having aches and pains in my lower back and hips. After an MRI, my doctor thought either arthritis or another injury might have been the culprit. He sent me for round of physical therapy, thinking it would help either way.

Out of those sessions came a basic fitness plan that included the three major exercise groups. At first I wondered if moving around too much would irritate my back or hip. But after some trial and error, I found that the exercise really did help.

I usually do my stretching work early in the morning - it quickly eases the stiffness I feel in the morning. The other things I fit in somewhere later in the day, and I love how much stronger physically I feel. Here's a typical week for me:

Day
Exercises To Do
Monday
15 min. of yoga + 15 min of exercises with weights or resistance band
Tuesday
10-15 min of stretching + 30 min of walking
Wednesday
15 min. of yoga + 15 min of exercises with weights or resistance band
Thursday
10-15 min of stretching + 30 min of low-impact dance
Friday
15 min. of yoga + 15 min of exercises with weights or resistance band
Saturday
10-15 min of stretching + 30 min of hiking
Sunday
15 min of stretching (I usually take the day off from stregthening)

Resources For More Information On Arthritis & Exercise

  • Mayo Clinic @ mayoclinic.com/health/osteoarthritis/DS00019
  • Arthritis Foundation @ arthritis.org/types-exercise.php

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    • Heather63 profile image
      Author

      Heather Adams 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Virginia - thanks so much! I think the more variety of exercises we can do, the better we'll keep arthritis at bay (within reason, of course). So it's great that you can mix it up during the year! I'd love to start swimming, but we don't have the budget for a membership in our town pool right now. So I'll stay a landlubber too!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Great job on explaining this Heather and I really like the sample exercise plan you included. I have arthritis, but have found I'm increasingly better and stronger as I continue regular exercise. I started with water aerobics like arkircher suggested. I still do that in the summer when I'm swimming with my kids. However most of the time I do land exercises now, which includes machine work and walking with my dog. Voted up and pinned.

    • Heather63 profile image
      Author

      Heather Adams 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Akirchner-hi, and thanks! Swimming really is one of the best kinds of aerobic exercise - all the muscle workout without the jarring on joints like running or even walking. I have the start of arthritis as well in my back, which is part of what is causing that pain I talked about. Yoga has been the best for me so far, because my muscles tend to get tight. Good luck with "land" workouts, and like you said, nice and easy does it!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Washington

      Hi Heather---most of the women (and 1 fellow or 2 including my husband) in my swim aerobics class have troubles with some form of arthritis and it is really great to see people not giving up but keeping up the movement. I've personally found swimming to be the best for my arthritic symptoms even though a lot of mine is muscle and tendon injury type stuff worse than the other. I'm, however, going to start a low impact on land class and see how it goes and you have many good points that this class offers as well. You just have to take it a bit at a time and keep on doing it! Super information and advice.

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