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Arthritis Special Report

Gentle Workouts Relieve Arthritis Pain

If you have arthritis, you may not feel much like moving. However, numerous studies show that appropriate exercise can help relieve the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Exercise can also improve mobility and function, help ward off other conditions like heart disease, and lift your spirits and self-esteem. To get the greatest benefit, most rheumatologists recommend a program that combines range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercises.

Arthritis and Range-of-Motion Exercises: Individuals with arthritis often have a limited range of motion: the distance a joint can be moved. However, exercises that involve stretching and extending, like tai chi (a Chinese exercise that involves gentle stretching movements) and yoga, help joints maintain a normal range of motion and also help relieve stiffness.

To stay limber with arthritis, you should do range-of-motion exercises at least every other day, although you can also do them daily without harm.

One word of caution: If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you should not perform stretching exercises during a flare-up, because you could further inflame your joints. Ask your doctor or a physical therapist to recommend some range-of-motion exercises and show you how to perform them safely.

Arthritis and Strength Training: This type of exercise, also called resistance training, helps build muscle. Strengthening the muscles around your joints can help support and protect those affected by arthritis. Strength-training exercises help keep your bones in proper alignment, increase bone density (helping to ward off osteoporosis), and improve your balance. More than that, they can help relieve arthritis pain.

A study at Tufts University of people with knee osteoarthritis found that those who participated in a four-month, home-based strength-training program of simple exercises such as squats and leg extension reported less pain and had less trouble performing activities like walking and climbing stairs than those who didn't do strength-training exercises.

There is also evidence that strength training may do more than provide symptom relief. In a recent study, 221 people with knee osteoarthritis were assigned to do either strength training or flexibility exercises. After 2.5 years, x-rays showed that the disease progressed more slowly in people who performed strength training than in those who did only range-of-motion exercises.

Before starting a strength-training program, ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist or fitness instructor who has worked with people who have your type of arthritis so that you learn to use the correct form as you do the exercises. Performing these exercises incorrectly can lead to muscle tears, pain, and swelling in the joints.

Arthritis and Aerobic Exercise: The benefits of aerobic exercises, such as swimming, walking, or bike riding, are numerous. They can improve cardiovascular fitness, help control your weight (which eases pressure on your joints), and improve how well you are able to perform day-to-day activities like climbing stairs. Over time, this type of exercise will also give you more energy, help you get a better night's sleep, boost your metabolism, and help reduce arthritis inflammation.

A particularly gentle way to begin an aerobic exercise program is to take an aquatic exercise, or hydrotherapy, class, which allows you to exercise without putting stress on your joints. One recent review of six studies involving 800 people with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee found that aquatic exercise several times a week for three months helped reduce arthritis pain and improve the ability to function.

No matter what form of aerobic exercise you choose, take it easy at first and avoid high-impact aerobics such as running, because this type of exercise can put additional stress on your joints. Also, if you have severe pain or swelling, stick to gentle stretching exercises until you feel better.

Posted in Arthritis on March 15, 2010

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