Site Logo

Exercise and Arthritis

There are over 150 arthritis and rheumatism conditions that may affect the bone, joint and soft tissues. While the clinical manifestation of these disorders may be variable, most people present with joint pain which may discourage the sufferer from exercising regularly. Yet, regular and appropriate exercise is beneficial to people with arthritis and rheumatism. Not only does regular exercise improve the person’s overall wellbeing, it also helps to relieve many of the symptoms of the arthritis condition, strengthen the affected joint and aid recovery.

If you have arthritis and would like to find out more about the do’s and don’ts of exercise, you will find the information below useful. It is important, however, that you consult your doctor or physiotherapist before you embark on any exercise programs.

Benefits of exercise for people with arthritis

Regular exercise is beneficial to people with arthritis in the following aspects. Exercise helps to:

  • build muscle strength, enhance joint protection and relieve pain and relieve pain
  • strengthen bones and minimize the risk of osteoporosis
  • improve joint movement range and capacity
  • reduce joint stiffness and enhance suppleness
  • control body weight and strengthen the cardiopulmonary function
  • relieve fatigue and improve sleep quality
  • rejuvenate body function and improve the overall health condition
  • build self-confidence and a positive attitude

Reasons why people with arthritis do not exercise

– Their symptoms are not adequately controlled by existing treatment
– They are worried that exercise may increase joint pain and further damage their joint
– They are not sure of the type of exercise to do
– There is a lack of confidence to exercise
– There is a lack of suitable equipment and facilities
– There is a lack of a convenient venue for exercise
– They are not able to afford the expenses of aided exercise though most forms of exercise do not require expensive equipment

Categories of exercise

1. Stretching Exercise:
This helps to relax your muscle and joint, maintain or improve joint range of movement and increase soft tissue suppleness. Stretching exercise is important during warm-up and cool-down before and after resistance and aerobic exercise
2. Resistance Exercise:
This is also known as a muscle strengthening exercise, e.g. lifting weights or a water bottle, kicking sandbag, etc. Resistance exercise can strengthen the muscle and protect the joint. While doing resistance exercise, contract muscle slowly, stops for 1 second and relax slowly. Breathe in during muscle contraction and out during muscle relaxation. Avoid holding breaths during exercise
3. Aerobic Exercise:
This is also known as endurance or cardiovascular exercise. It is a gentle form of exercise and may take the form of walking, swimming, jogging, Tai Chi, cycling, aerobic dances etc. Aerobic exercise can improve cardiopulmonary function and strengthen muscles. An appropriate level of aerobic exercise will speed up the heart rate and make you sweat or breathe rapidly, but you should still be able to talk without being out of breath. If you are short of breath while exercising, it may mean that you are under anaerobic situation and may feel tired with muscle pain afterwards

Exercise and rest

1. It is important to balance exercise and rest in accordance with your physical condition
2. Having slight pain during exercise may not necessarily mean that you are injured. People who do not exercise regularly will have muscle soreness in the beginning. This is normal since muscles need time to adapt to the additional demands you are putting on them
3. A joint that is inflamed or hurts seriously should be allowed to rest. It is particularly important to avoid doing resistance and aerobic exercise with an inflamed joint. However, a joint that has been rested for too long will become stiff and should be maintained on gentle mobilizing exercise
4. When the arthritis condition is under control (i.e. inflammation, pain, stiffness and fatigue have improved), you should do various appropriate exercises to enhance joint function

You should not exercise if:

1. your stomach is empty or full in the past 1 hour
2. you are not well (e.g. having fever or cold)
3. you feel dizzy, short of breath or have palpitation
4. your joint pain increases suddenly
5. an injury has occurred during exercise, especially at the joint
6. the joint is inflamed
7. you have over-exercised previously: joint range of motion is reduced, joint pain for more than 2 hours, joint swelling or persistent fatigue following the last exercise

What you should do before exercise?

1. As arthritis conditions may vary in activity and severity, you should consult your doctor or physiotherapist for advice before starting your exercise plan
2. Wear comfortable clothing for exercise so that your joints can move freely, and you do not get too cold or too warm
3. Wear suitable sized shoes in order to prevent injury or blister formation due to friction. Insoles should be placed inside the shoes to absorb shock. Soles with grains can help to minimize the risk of slipping

Things to avoid:

1. High-impact exercise, such as playing squash or running on hard surfaces
2. Circular movements of head or neck
3. Rapid, jerky movement
4. Forced joint movement

Exercise target – The 1-2-3-4-5 Rule

(1) Move each joint in its full range of motion at least once every day. Full range means moving a joint within its acceptable pain level. This exercise can prevent stiffening up of the joint due to immobility
(2, 3) Do resistance exercise (or muscle-strengthening exercise) twice or three times a week. For the muscles that require strengthening, do 1 to 3 sets of resistance exercise each time. The concerned muscle should be allowed to contract 8 to 12 times during each set of exercise. You can adjust the weight in accordance with your health condition. Avoid doing resistance exercise to the same muscle for two consecutive days in order to let the muscle and joint adapt to the additional demand gradually
(4, 5) For 4 to 5 days a week, do 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Divide aerobic exercise into various sessions according to your health condition. You should aim at doing at least 120 minutes of exercise each week. (For those who do not exercise regularly, you should do this gradually. A basic target should be set up and the body should be allowed to get used to aerobic exercise before upgrading.)

John Doe