Come on in, the water's fine...especially for achy, swollen joints. Exercising in water is a great way to ease arthritis pain. By reducing the pull of gravity on the body, water decreases stress on joints, making movements more fluid and less jarring. Warm water can be quite soothing, helping to relax muscles and relieve pain during exercise.
Three Ways to Beat Arthritis Pain
Experts recommend three types of exercise for people who have arthritis:
Gentle stretches and range-of-motion exercises. These are extremely important to any arthritis exercise program. The antigravity effect of water can help with balance and allow you to do stretches that might be too difficult out of the water.
Strengthening exercises. Building or maintaining strong muscles helps support and protect joints. In the pool, the water takes the place of weights and provides resistance to build muscle without risking overuse and injury.
Aerobic exercises. Swimming, jogging, or even walking laps around the pool are great ways to get aerobic exercise, helping to control weight and reduce joint pain and swelling.
"Strength, flexibility, and aerobic exercise are extremely important, particularly in people with arthritis," says Eric Levicoff, MD, orthopedic surgeon with Bryn Mawr Hospital. Most people with arthritis should aim to do some type of flexibility exercises every day and strength exercises two to four times a week.
"Engaging in aerobic exercises for 30 minutes at least three times per week can improve cardiovascular fitness, prevent weight gain, and improve muscle tone," adds Dr. Levicoff. "Water-based programs add many benefits, and they're an excellent way to add variety to your workouts."
Tips for a Better Workout
Following these safety guidelines will help you exercise safely:
Be consistent. "Find a time of day that routinely works for your schedule, and plan to devote at least 20 to 30 minutes without distractions to your workout," Dr. Levicoff says.
Go hot and cold. Try heating pads and cold packs. Heat relaxes your joints and muscles and helps them get ready for exercise. Cold reduces inflammation and swelling and can help reduce postworkout soreness.
Warm up first. Do gentle range-of-motion and strengthening exercises at least 10 to 15 minutes before performing more vigorous exercises.
Don't do too much too soon. Building endurance should be a gradual process. Be sure to allow enough time for recuperation between workouts. Some soreness is fine after a workout, but pain is not. If the soreness prevents you from doing the rest of your activities for the day, you've done too much.
Cool down. Five to ten minutes after exercising, set aside time for a cool down. To cool down, simply do your exercise activity at a slower pace. End with gentle stretching exercises.
"Though water workouts are safe for most people with arthritis, always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program," Dr. Levicoff adds. "Similarly, if joint pain and soreness persist, consult with your doctor."
Find solutions for shoulder, hip, and knee pain by attending seminars offered through Main Line Health. Call 1.866.CALL.MLH for scheduling information.