Tips to protect your joints
Start slowly to ease your joints into exercise if you haven't been active for a while. If you push yourself too hard, you can overwork your muscles and worsen your joint pain.
Consider these tips as you get started:
- Keep the impact low. Low impact exercises like stationary or recumbent bicycles, elliptical trainers, or exercise in the water help keep joint stress low while you move.
- Apply heat. Heat can relax your joints and muscles and relieve any pain you have before you begin. Heat treatments — warm towels, hot packs or a shower — should be warm, not painfully hot, and should be applied for about 20 minutes.
- Move gently. Move your joints gently at first to warm up. You might begin with range-of-motion exercises for five to 10 minutes before you move on to strengthening or aerobic exercises.
- Go slowly. Exercise with slow and easy movements. If you feel pain, take a break. Sharp pain and pain that is stronger than your usual joint pain might indicate something is wrong. Slow down if you notice swelling or redness in your joints.
- Ice afterward. Apply ice to your joints for up to 20 minutes as needed after activity, especially after activity that causes joint swelling.
Trust your instincts and don't exert more energy than you think your joints can handle. Take it easy and slowly increase your exercise length and intensity as you progress.
You might notice some pain after you exercise if you haven't been active for a while. In general, if you're sore for more than two hours after you exercise, you were probably exercising too strenuously. Talk to your doctor about what pain is normal and what pain is a sign of something more serious.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, ask your doctor if you should exercise during general or local flares. One option is to work through your joint flares by doing only range-of-motion exercises, just to keep your body moving, or exercising in water to cushion your joints.
Exercise programs for people with arthritis
Check with your doctor about exercise programs in your area for people with arthritis. Some hospitals, clinics and health clubs offer special programs.
The Arthritis Foundation conducts exercise programs for people with arthritis in many parts of the United States. Programs include exercise classes — in water and on land — and walking groups. Contact your local branch for more information.
Oct. 26, 2016
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- Gecht-Silver MR, et al. Patient information: Arthritis and exercise. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 16, 2015.
- Benefits of exercise for osteoarthritis. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/benefits/exercise-knee-osteoarthritis.php. Accessed Nov. 16, 2015.
- Using heat and cold for pain relief. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/heat-cold-pain-relief.php. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
- Resistance training for health and fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/resistance-training.pdf. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 18, 2015.