Arthritis and Exercise: What to Do and Not Do

Aug 11, 2023

Arthritis and Exercise: What to Do and Not Do

Millions of people suffer from arthritis symptoms every day, and if you’re one of them, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. But being active can help your symptoms if you follow a few simple tips.

If you’re one of the nearly 60 million Americans who have arthritis, being more physically active is probably one of the last things on your mind. In fact, with joint pain and stiffness, it probably seems best to limit your activity to reduce strain and, hopefully, pain, too.

Surprisingly, the opposite is true: Arthritis symptoms tend to respond better to activity. The key is knowing which activities can help and which can worsen your joint symptoms.

In Belle Meade and Nashville, Tennessee, James Johnson, MD, and the team at Advanced Sports Medicine helps patients manage their arthritis symptoms with medical treatment and lifestyle changes focused on reducing joint pain and improving overall mobility and wellness. In this post, learn how activity can help you manage your symptoms, along with tips on which activities to embrace and which to avoid.

How exercise helps arthritis

Arthritis happens when inflammation happens inside your joints, eventually damaging the joint components and increasing pain and stiffness. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common is osteoarthritis — the kind of arthritis that happens as we age, and wear and tear take their toll on our joints.

When your joints are sore or stiff, kicking your feet up and taking a break can be tempting, even avoiding activities for fear of exacerbating your symptoms. But exercise offers several important benefits for people with arthritis, and for most of us, that means we really need more activity, not less.

Exercise improves natural lubrication inside your joints, helping reduce inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Over time, regular exercise helps delay more serious joint damage and can help you avoid feeling depressed and isolated, too.

Arthritis and exercise: Dos and Don’ts 

While exercise can be helpful for arthritis symptoms, not all exercises are created equal — and in fact, the wrong kind of exercise routine can wind up making your symptoms a lot worse. These tips can help you get the most from exercise while limiting risks.

First, talk to your doctor

If you have arthritis, scheduling a visit before starting any new exercise routine is important. We’ll evaluate your joints and overall health, then make recommendations tailored to your needs and goals, helping you avoid worsening symptoms and other potential issues.

Choose low-impact

High-impact exercises put a lot of stress and strain on your joints. Instead, opt for low-impact activities, like walking, swimming, dancing, bicycling, or water aerobics.

Always warm-up 

Taking a few minutes to warm up before exercise gets your blood flowing so your muscles have the oxygen they need to perform. When you skip warming up, your muscles stay stiff, increasing your risk of pain and injury.

Start slowly

Once you’re cleared for exercise, remember to start slowly. You’re not in a race; you’re developing healthy habits for life. Choose low weights, few reps, and less time on the treadmill, and work up gradually over time.

Every little bit counts

You don’t have to go to a gym for hours to reap the benefits of exercise — in fact, you shouldn’t, since prolonged exercise could be harmful. Focus on making exercise part of your daily routine. Taking a walk or a bike ride in your neighborhood, working in your garden, and even cleaning your house or garage all count. 

Don’t ignore pain

With any physical activity, listening to your body is really important. If your activity causes pain, it’s a sign to go more slowly or to schedule a visit so that we can make modification recommendations. “No pain, no gain” is a silly saying with no basis in truth, and it can make things a lot worse.

Focus on strength and flexibility

Gentle strengthening exercises help your muscles add stability to your joints, giving them the support they need for better function and less pain. Flexibility and balance exercises keep joints mobile while reducing your risk of falls.

Get help for your arthritis symptoms

Arthritis might be a common “side effect” of getting older, but that doesn’t mean you have to give in to it. To learn how we can help you improve your arthritis symptoms with exercise and other therapies, call 615-467-4636 or book an appointment online with Dr. Johnson and the team at Advanced Sports Medicine today.