Exercise and Osteoarthritis

Arthritis, Bone & Joint Health, Featured Article, Healthy Aging, Healthy Living, Osteoarthritis
on June 27, 2011
How exercise can help osteoarthritis.

The degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, is the most commonly found type of arthritis. The breakdown of cartilage in joints poses challenges to anyone dealing with the disease, but it does not have to mean the end of an active and healthy lifestyle. Ask your physician about exercise and osteoarthritis, and then develop a plan for managing your osteoarthritis and staying fit with exercise.

Begin slowly, build up gradually and remain consistent. Once your doctor says it’s OK, take it slow. If you have never exercised before or haven't in some time, you will need to pay attention to your body and how it is affected by exercise. If you feel pain or soreness that doesn’t go away quickly, you may be pushing yourself too hard. It is common for people to begin exercise programs with only five-minute stints at a time. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. You are only competing with your personal best and no one else. Keep your goals realistic and achievable.

Stretching is an exercise. Stretching is not an annoying preamble to the start of your real workout or an unnecessary cool-down you’d like to skip. A good stretch is a proper exercise in itself. Stretching provides your muscles and connective tissue with blood, the fuel your body thrives on. Stretching increases your range of motion — something anyone with osteoarthritis can benefit from. Neglecting the usefulness of stretching can cause unnecessary pain or injury and, in the end, might turn you off from exercise for good. Reach tall over head to stretch your entire body — especially the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers. Bend at the waist and reach to your toes for a good back of the leg stretch.

Strong muscles protect sore joints. It may feel a bit counterintuitive, but weight-bearing exercises are very helpful in building muscle mass that is lost over time or with lack of use. Reticence to move or exercise during painful periods is natural and understandable. You should not push yourself physically during a painful flare-up. If you are feeling stable and your doctor gives you the go-ahead, try some light strength training. According to the Hospital for Special Surgery, muscular fitness will actually make your daily activities easier if you have osteoarthritis. Try bicep curls with light weights, soup cans or even without weights to gently build and maintain muscles. Large exercise bands provide gentle resistance for leg lifts. See the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website for additional exercises you can try for your osteoarthritis.

Core strength is your friend. Anyone with osteoarthritis will feel more confident and stable with a powerful core. Concentrate on the center of your body and squeeze your abdomen as if a corset is being tightened around you. This is your core, and you just did a core exercise. The Hospital for Special Surgery also states on its website that good core strength will decrease your risk for low back pain and your risk of falling, while supporting good posture and protecting your spine.