People with arthritis face a major conundrum, and it’s this: Exercise is essential if they want to reduce joint pain and maintain optimal function, but how can they exercise when they’re in pain?
The short answer is to begin very slowly and gently. Most importantly, exercise under the guidance of Behnam Khaleghi, MD, and our team at Pacific Rheumatology. We can recommend exercises that are safe for your joints and help you learn when pain and inflammation mean it’s time to temporarily cut back on exercising.
Why movement alleviates joint pain
Exercise builds and strengthens the muscles that surround and support the joints. With regular exercise, these muscles are better equipped to maintain joint movement and reduce the pain. But the benefits of exercise don’t stop there.
Purposeful movement is the only way to keep synovial fluid flowing through the joint. And synovial fluid has three essential jobs: 1) It delivers oxygen and nutrients to key tissues in the joint like articular cartilage, 2) it carries away toxic wastes, and 3) it lubricates the joint.
Most of the cartilage inside the joint doesn’t have a blood supply. Instead, it depends on synovial fluid to keep it healthy. As synovial fluid lubricates the joint, bones move smoothly and with less pain.
Five types of exercise to alleviate joint pain
When it comes to alleviating joint pain, it’s important to include a variety of exercises. That way you won’t add stress to the joint by repeating the same exercise.
We recommend five exercise categories: strength training, range-of-motion exercises, stretching exercises, low-impact aerobic exercise, and alternative movement therapies.
Within each category, you have many choices of exercises and activities. This gives you the ability to mix it up and switch between gentle and more demanding exercises, depending on the current health of your joints.
Strengthening the muscles around your joints takes stress off the joint and ensures the muscles can support balanced joint movement. The exercises you need in your regimen depend on the joint that’s in pain.
If you have knee pain, then you should focus on exercises that work your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and hip muscles, as one example. You also take stress from all your joints if you include exercises that build your core muscles.
These exercises maintain joint flexibility and reduce stiffness by putting the joint through its full range of motion. Range of motion refers to the normal movement of each joint in specific directions.
When performing flexibility exercises, move slowly, gently, and smoothly. With slow movement, you can feel the pain and stop before you suddenly move the joint too far.
Here are two examples of exercises for shoulder movement:
Raise your arm straight up and then lower it, bringing it as far behind your body as possible.
Raise your arm up to the side, over your head, back down, and then across your body as though reaching for the other shoulder.
Stretching exercises go hand in hand with your strengthening regimen and range-of-motion exercises. You should stretch all the same muscle groups that you strengthen.
Low-impact aerobic exercise
Low-impact aerobic exercise boosts your circulation, improves your overall health, and triggers the release of pain-relieving endorphins. The great thing about this category is that you can choose the type of exercise you enjoy.
Some of the best low-impact aerobic activities include walking, using an elliptical trainer or treadmill, bicycling, swimming, and water aerobics.
Exercising in water is gentle on your joints. Water provides resistance so you can strengthen muscles, but its buoyancy reduces the impact on your joints.
Alternative movement therapies
Mindful movement therapies such as yoga and tai chi are gentle on joints, build muscle strength, and improve flexibility, balance, and function. Most people find that these therapies also boost their mood and help control stress.
If you have questions or would like help developing an exercise plan for your joints, call Pacific Rheumatology or book an appointment online today.