Best Exercises for Arthritis Relief

There are three types of exercises you can do to make living with arthritis a whole lot easier. And there's a reason why each is essential.

There was a time when the most common exercise prescription for arthritis was "rest is best." Not anymore. Health experts now know that physical activity is not only good for people with arthritis; it has become a standard form of treatment that can help relieve pain, improve balance and endurance, and restore joint function. And the benefits of exercise aren't just physical. Increased activity can help you sleep better, increase your confidence, and improve your general outlook and overall quality of life.

It's important to work with a physical therapist or certified trainer with a background in exercises for people with disabilities, to make sure you know the specific types of exercises that are best for you and how to do them properly. You may be able to find exercise classes in your community that are specifically designed for people with arthritis. Be sure to get a clearance from your doctor before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any other chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Exercises recommended for the majority of people with arthritis include:

Range of Motion
Exercises that keep your joints moving or cause you to stretch will help keep you flexible. Yoga and tai chi not only help you maintain and improve flexibility; they help with balance and stress reduction. Your warm-up routine can include flexibility exercises to relieve stiffness and prepare all of your joints for the activity to come. These exercises may include:

  • neck and shoulder rolls
  • finger and toe flexing
  • hip, leg, and lower back stretches
  • rotations

Strength/Weight Bearing
Weight-bearing exercises help strengthen your muscles; strong muscles support and protect your joints. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommend muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. Some strengthening exercises include

  • lifting free weights
  • using elastic resistance bands
  • doing push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises that use body weight for resistance

In addition to keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy and helping you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, endurance exercises may help reduce swelling in your joints. If you are overweight, losing weight is particularly helpful if you suffer from knee osteoarthritis, because your knees bear so much of your body weight. That load on your knees actually increases when you walk or climb up or down stairs. Studies have also found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who regularly participate in aerobic exercise become stronger and function better, with no further damage to their joints. The CDC recommend at least 2½  hours of moderate activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of more vigorous activity, or an equivalent combination of the two, spread throughout the week. Aerobic activities you can try include:

  • bicycling
  • brisk walking
  • swimming
  • water exercises
  • circuit training

Not all exercises work for everyone with arthritis, especially if they involve constant repetition of the same movement. If you have severe arthritis in your lower body, even bicycling and walking long distances may do more harm than good. Avoid running, jumping, and other high impact activities if you have any degree of arthritis below your waist. Instead, try using a stationary bicycle or dance styles that keep your feet on the floor. Mix it up, incorporating several different styles of exercise, so that you are using different body parts and different muscles throughout a single period of exercise.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity and Arthritis

Harvard medical School Family Health Guide: Exercise: Rx for Overcoming Osteoarthritis

University of Tennessee: Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program