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. This can worsen your joint pain.

Consider these tips as you get started:

  • 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 start noticing 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 inflammation or redness in your joints.
  • Ice afterward. Apply ice to your joints as needed after activity, especially after activity that causes any joint swelling.

Trust your instincts and don't exert more energy than you think your joints can handle. Take it easy and slowly work your exercise length and intensity up as you progress.

Don't overdo it

You might notice some pain after you exercise if you haven't been active for a while. In general, if your pain lasts longer 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.

Exercise programs for people with arthritis

Check with your doctor about exercise programs in your area for people with arthritis. Hospitals and clinics sometimes offer special programs, as do local health clubs.

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.

Feb. 14, 2013 See more In-depth