For most patients, the perfect arthritis exercise is one they can do comfortably without increasing pain. It can seem like an impossible task. On the one hand, exercise is incredibly good for maintaining the functioning of the joints and surrounding muscles, and on the other it hurts if done incorrectly, or at too high intensity. The goal of any arthritis patient should be to ease into exercise and not increase pain levels while doing it. This means listening carefully to your body before, during, and after any new activity.
A good place to start any exercise program is with walking and stretching. Walking is low impact, can be done anywhere, and requires no special equipment except a good pair of sneakers. The trick is to start slow. If you've never exercised or have been sedentary for a long time, just go out the front door, walk two minutes down the block, and turn around and go home. The next day, do three minutes, and so on until you can comfortably walk 20 minutes per day. By breaking it into little chunks of time, you get your aching joints used to the movement without injuring them and you gradually get them used to more activity.
If you've been active but had to stop due to pain, walking is a great activity to get you going again. The key point is to listen to your body. If your joints ache more then you're doing too much, and need to rest for a little bit.
Back Pain ExerciseIf your arthritis is causing back pain there are specific exercises you can do to strengthen the lower back muscles and support your spine. To learn about them, click here.
Swimming or Water AerobicsIf you live in a warm climate or have access to a heated or indoor pool, swimming and water aerobics classes are great arthritis exercises. The water keeps the pressure completely off the joints and the warmth is soothing to aching muscles. Water aerobics also gets your heart working, which means more oxygen to your tissues which leads to faster healing.
This is a particularly good choice for patients with arthritis of the spine and arthritis in the knee. Both of these conditions respond really well to the warm water and movement. The discs in your spine do not have their own blood supply and must get nutrients from the surrounding tissues. They do it by a process called "imbibing." If you've ever put a dry sponge in a puddle of water and watched it soak the water up, you know what imbibing is. The exercises in the water allow your spine to move freely and this motion helps the discs imbibe, or absorb, nutrients. This a really important point to prevent further degeneration!
The Perfect Arthritis Exercise - Stretching!What's really important for any patient with arthritis is stretching. Especially after walking or other activity because stretching allows the already warm muscle to lengthen and become more flexible. Why is this important?
Remember the roots of the word arthritis (bone, joint, inflammation). Surrounding each bone and joint are muscles. If the muscles on either side of the joint are tight, they're going to put pressure on it. If that joint already hurts, the increased pressure from the tight muscle will make it hurt MORE. But if you can relieve some of that pressure (which stretching will do) you can relieve pain.
For a complete guide on stretching, click here: Arthritis Exercise - Stretching