Exercise and Joint Pain
November 16, 2017 Steve H. CMT
Perhaps the biggest myth surrounding arthritis is that you should not exercise because it will cause more damage. Of course those who suffer from a form of arthritis will welcome this myth because physical activity—the wrong physical activity—can be quite painful. But the fact is that exercise isn’t just something you should think about when you’re experience joint pain, it is something you should be doing.
This is an instance where what “makes sense” is actually false. Don’t just take my word for it; the folks at Harvard Medical School say that exercise is the secret to joint pain relief. Why? Exercise strengthens muscles equally so you can stop favoring certain muscles over the other. When you avoid exercise you are doing more harm than good because you are allowing your muscles to weaken which compounds joint pain.
Exercising today to keep your joints healthy and flexible will allow you to maintain more independence in later years. Remember, exercise is also a great way to help you beat arthritis by avoiding weight gain and maintaining overall good health.
If you’re experiencing joint pain and you’re skeptical about exercising, commit these rules to memory and put them to use ASAP!
Not All Exercises Are Equal
Just because exercise is the secret to joint pain relief doesn’t mean all arthritis suffers should be playing tennis. In fact, you should consult with a physical therapist and arthritis specialist to determine what types of exercises are safe and which ones you should avoid. You may have to go through several types of exercise before you find what works for your body.
Pain Isn’t Necessary
The primary reason arthritis sufferers are loath to exercise is because they are terrified of the pain and rightly so. The key here is to find exercises that don’t cause you pain worse than what you experience regularly. This is why I recommend consulting with your physician and physical therapist to create a workout regimen that strengthens muscles without causing you to sit in a hot bath for an hour every night.
You will experience some soreness after a workout, but if you experience pain that lasts beyond an hour or two you probably need to switch to less stressful exercises.
Variety Is Necessary
You may have found that walking or yoga is the best exercise to alleviate your joint pain and you’ve stuck with it. While I commend you for regularly working your joints and muscles, you need to switch up your routine to make sure you (and your muscles) don’t become complacent. Your muscles need to be challenged so they can get strong and support those joints properly.
So while you love yoga, you should spend a couple days each week doing something different like stationary cycling or water aerobics. Your goal should be to strengthen muscles while improving stamina so you can continue to exercise regularly.
Don’t Forget The Warm Up...Or The Cool Down
It doesn’t matter if you are exercising to alleviate arthritis symptoms or just to stay healthy, the warm up is an essential part of any workout program. You don’t want to just jump into the deep end and push your muscles to the limit right off the bat. Instead you want to start your workout by gradually increasing the intensity. Begin with stretching to improve your range of motion, particularly if you’re using weights.
When your workout is complete you might need to ice your joints to keep the swelling down and reduce pain. But you also want to physically cool your muscles down by slowly reducing the intensity. Stretch those muscles again before icing so you are only icing the muscles and joints that need it.
Low Impact Cardio
Don’t pretend that cardio exercise doesn’t exist simply because you have joint pain. Ignoring cardio won’t change that it is a highly effective way to improve your joint function while also reducing pain. The key to cardio that works for joint pain is low impact cardio, which means nothing that will jar or further damage the joints. So walk, don’t run.
Go swimming or hop on a stationary bicycle to get your heart pumping without doing more damage.
You should understand that if you suffer from joint pain you will experience some pain or discomfort after you’ve worked those joints and muscles. But if you want to avoid some of the nasty long-term side effects of pain medication, look to natural treatments.
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Hürlimann, David, Frank Enseleit, and Priv-Doz Dr Frank Ruschitzka. “Rheumatoide arthritis, inflammation und atherosklerose.” Herz 29.8 (2004): 760-768.
Schett, Georg. “Rheumatoid arthritis: inflammation and bone loss.” Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift 156.1-2 (2006): 34-41.