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A staggering 15% of the Indian population, or over 180 million people in the country, have arthritis. In fact, arthritis is far more prevalent in India than diseases like AIDS, cancer and even diabetes.

Arthritis is a collective term used to describe degenerative diseases of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile, osteoarthritis and gout are some of the most common forms of arthritis in India. Arthritis can produce either chronic or acute symptoms such as joint pain, joint stiffness, swelling and tenderness in the joints as well as discolouration or redness in the affected area of the body.

There is no cure for arthritis currently. That said, symptoms can be managed with medication, a healthy diet for arthritis and regular exercise.

Often, patients cite arthritis as the reason why they don't go out as much as before or for limiting their physical movements. However, staying active is actually one of the ways they can control their symptoms. Medical practitioners highly recommend regular exercise to maintain healthy body weight as well as joint health.

Additionally, giving up physical activities because of the fear of pain can also lead to further complications including heart disease, osteoporosis and even type 2 diabetes. Exercises can prevent the patient's health from worsening. However, it is important to know the right kinds of exercises to do in arthritis. It also helps greatly to work out with a physiotherapist who can guide you on the correct form and pressure, and push you just enough, for the best results.

Read more: Home remedies for gout pain

  1. Benefits of arthritis exercises
  2. Types of exercises for arthritis
  3. Exercises for arthritis in the knees
  4. Exercises for arthritis in the hands
  5. Tips for exercising with arthritis
  6. Takeaways for exercising with arthritis
  7. Doctors for Exercises for Arthritis

Exercise is not only for individuals who are fit but also for those living with chronic ailments. People with health issues are usually recommended specific exercises - studies show that people living with arthritis can benefit greatly from regular exercise.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can occur at any age. It causes inflammation in the joints, which can be quite painful. Low to moderate intensity exercises, including light weight-training, can help preserve or even improve joint function, range of motion and healthy body weight in patients. (One important thing to remember is that smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. If you are a smoker and have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, read our article on how to quit smoking for help kicking this habit.)

Some of the benefits of regular exercises for arthritis patients include:

  • Protecting the joints from future damage.
  • Strengthening and adding flexibility to the muscles that support the joint.
  • Preserving the range of motion of the affected joints.
  • Helping maintain healthy body weight, as heavier weight puts more pressure on the joints.
  • Improve or maintain the health of tissues of bones and cartilage.
  • Improve heart health and overall fitness.

Before beginning any form of physical activity, especially if you have arthritis, it is a good idea to consult your doctor. Rehabilitation exercises are designed for the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and hands, which are commonly associated with various forms of arthritis and arthritis pain.

  1. Flexibility exercises for arthritis
  2. Strengthening exercises for arthritis
  3. Aerobic exercises for arthritis
  4. Arthritis exercises for stability
  5. Hydrotherapy for arthritis

Flexibility exercises for arthritis

Also called range-of-motion exercises, these movements allow the person to maintain the flexibility and function of the affected joints. Stretching and joint mobility exercises are also great for this purpose, as they allow you to practice the full range of motion of the joints - allowing them to extend fully in each direction.

Flexibility training is particularly great for persons suffering from rheumatoid arthritis as it can ease the inflammation in the joints. These movements can also be performed in short durations at least 5-10 times a day to keep the joints moving.

Some patients find it useful to do some stretches early in the morning, soon after they wake up, to reduce stiffness. Some exercises you can do while still in bed are hamstring stretches and serratus punch. Here's how to do them:

1. Hamstring stretches

  • Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place both feet on the bed. This is your starting position.
  • Now, without lifting your head or shoulders, raise your right leg straight up into the air.
  • Flex your right foot so the bottom of your right foot is facing the ceiling.
  • Try to straighten the right leg as much as possible, while supporting the back of your leg with your hands. If this is not possible, ask someone else to help support your leg.
  • Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch on the back of the right thigh, up to the right hip.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the left leg.

2. Serratus punch

  • Lie down on your back. You can bend your knees or keep your legs straight, whichever is comfortable. This is your starting position.
  • Raise your arms up towards the ceiling, palms facing each other.
  • Gently lift your head and shoulders off the bed while keeping your arms raised.
  • Hold till it is comfortable for you. Gradually increase the duration of the exercise, till you can hold comfortably for 30-40 seconds.
  • Gently return to the starting position.

Strengthening exercises for arthritis

Weight training exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles, which help in taking the load off the affected joints. These can be done with weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells or with one's own body weight.

Strengthening exercises must, however, be performed in a controlled atmosphere such as a physiotherapy centre as they are more intense. An appropriate amount of weight must be used to avoid worsening the joints or causing pain.

Younger individuals can opt for a set each of 8-10 reps of a series of exercises with a set of weights or resistance bands, or even using their body weight. Older people can opt for more reps but with lighter weights or resistance.

That said, people with arthritis can perform exercises like dumbbell curls and kettlebell squats with one important precaution: stop if any of your joints start hurting. Experts also advise observing yourself for a few days and then scheduling your workout for a time (example, afternoon or early evening) when you are least likely to experience joint pain of arthritis.

Aerobic exercises for arthritis

Low-intensity exercises performed repeatedly over a longer period of time are classified as aerobic or cardiovascular activities. These include walking, light jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing or using an elliptical or cross-trainer.

These exercises, done over a longer duration have a positive impact on the larger muscles and bones of the body and greatly improve cardiovascular health, besides improving your stamina.

To determine if you are working out at the right intensity, try talking during the exercise: if you can talk while performing the exercise without running out of breath, you're doing it right.

Arthritis exercises for stability

Also known as body awareness exercises, these include slower movements that improve posture, stability, coordination as well as balance. These activities include yoga, pilates and tai chi. These exercises help bring a sense of awareness and to relax you.

Hydrotherapy for arthritis

Those with access to a swimming pool or a body of water can also try hydrotherapy to ease their symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Water acts in two ways: One, exercising in water is a natural strength-building activity as it provides resistance to the movements of the body. Two: the buoyancy when you are in water reduces the pressure on the joints. Try simple movements like raising one leg or arm in the water at a time to experience this - take support from the pool wall or ladder, if necessary.

All the above forms of exercise can be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of arthritis in the body and help you lead a pain-free life. But always remember to incorporate warm-ups before beginning any exercise regime.

Arthritis in the knees can be debilitating, and exercise may be the last thing on these patients' minds. However, regular exercise can help alleviate pain and other symptoms caused by arthritis in the knee, as it helps strengthen the muscles around the joint - this improves weight distribution and mobility.

Exercises that can help with arthritis in the knee include:

  • Knee stretches: The big muscles of the leg are all connected to the knees. Hence, stretching the quadriceps (front of the thighs), hamstrings (back of the thighs), calves (back of the lower legs) as well as the hip flexors are extremely beneficial for the stability of the knee joint. Try this to begin:
    • Lie down on your back with your legs stretched out.
    • Now, bend the right knee and grab the shin of this leg with both hands.
    • Press the right knee towards your chest for up to 30 seconds.
    • Return to starting position and repeat on the left leg.
  • Knee-strengthening exercises: Those with knee arthritis may have trouble performing squats to their full extent. Even doing half the range of motion or performing squats with the support of a wall behind the back is good for strengthening the muscles as well as the knee joint. Here's how you can do this:
    • Stand with your back against the wall. Feet slightly in front, half a step away from the wall. Open your feet a little wider than hip-width. Place your hands on your waist or raise your arms in front, at shoulder level. This is your starting position.
    • Now slowly bend your knees to lower your buttocks as if you're about to sit in a chair.
    • Hold for a few seconds before coming back up.
    • Rest for a few seconds before starting again.
    • Start with three or four repetitions and gradually increase the reps to 15-20.
  • Aerobic exercises: Running isn’t recommended for patients suffering from arthritis in the knee as it is a high-impact exercise. However, walking, cycling and swimming are great to alleviate knee pain.

Any exercises that put extra pressure on the knees must be avoided, such as jumping movements, deep squats or lunges or sports that involve running.

Those suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis frequently complain of stiff hands that cause hand pain and swelling throughout the palms and the fingers. Some of the exercises include making a fist, bending the fingers one by one with the arm outstretched, placing your hand on a table and lifting the fingers one by one, bending the wrist up and down with the arm extended, or even squeezing a stress ball. All movements must be done with at least 10 repetitions, slowly as well as while breathing properly.

Conversely, picking up weighted objects with the hands, operating a mobile phone or computer repeatedly during the day and other such repetitive motions must be avoided as it can cause more harm to the hands.

Read more: Repetitive Strain Injury

Arthritis can affect different people in different ways. Therefore, exercise programmes must be tailored towards each individual’s physical condition and the degree of the disease affecting them.

  • Start slow: Whether you’re only beginning to exercise after learning about arthritis or getting back to a routine, always begin slowly. Start with short 10-15 minute exercise routines, and build up to a longer duration.
  • Change the workouts: Adding variety to your exercise programme is also beneficial in activating different muscles, and it helps in strengthening the joints even more.
  • Mix the intensity of exercises: Most exercises have many variations and can be done with different intensity. It is a good idea to try both low- and moderate-intensity exercises and switch between them.
  • Use heat packs: If you are feeling stiffness in the muscles or joints, try applying a heat pack before exercise to loosen them up.
  • Cool down and stretch: After an exercise routine, always cool down with static stretching exercises and applying an ice pack to reduce inflammation or swelling you may have as a result of the workout.

Arthritis can affect an individual’s life in varying ways, mostly by limiting the range of movement as compared to a healthy person. It can cause difficulty in carrying out basic tasks that involve the movement of the body’s various joints and can cause pain and discomfort in doing so.

But a well-balanced routine of medication, diet and exercise can alleviate the symptoms and resulting discomfort caused by various forms of arthritis. But understanding your body’s limitations and knowing when to stop are the key to regaining strength in the affected areas of the body.

Dr. Sunil Kumar Yadav

Dr. Sunil Kumar Yadav

Orthopedics
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Deep Chakraborty

Dr. Deep Chakraborty

Orthopedics
10 Years of Experience

Dr. Darsh Goyal

Dr. Darsh Goyal

Orthopedics
10 Years of Experience

Dr. Vinay Vivek

Dr. Vinay Vivek

Orthopedics
6 Years of Experience

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References

  1. American College of Rheumatology. [Internet] Atlanta, Georgia, United States Exercise and Arthritis
  2. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Does exercise contribute to arthritis? Research says no.
  3. Cooney JK et al. Benefits of Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Journal of Aging Research. 2011; 2011: 681640. PMID: 21403833.
  4. Hunter DJ and Eckstein F. Exercise and osteoarthritis. Journal of Anatomy. 2009 Feb; 214(2): 197–207. PMID: 19207981.
  5. Messier SP et al. Exercise and Dietary Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Older Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis.. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2004 May; 50(5): 1501-1510.
  6. Stenström CH and Minor MA. Evidence for the benefit of aerobic and strengthening exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care & Research. 2003 Jun; 49(3): 428-434.
  7. Ytterberg SR et al. Exercise for arthritis.. Bailliere's Clinical Rheumatology. 1994 Feb; 8(1): 161-189.
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