When it comes to treating the symptoms of arthritis, medication is almost always necessary, but treatment doesn’t stop there. Following an individualized exercise program can also help to relieve pain and stiffness that occur as a result of the disease.
Some people might argue that the symptoms of arthritis, which include stiffness, pain, swelling and reduced range of motion in joints don’t lend themselves to a workout routine, but Dr. Andrew Frankel, an orthopedic surgeon at Paoli Hospital’s Main Line HealthCare Center in Audubon, says that exercise is still a viable option.
“Patients suffering from arthritis have joint stiffness and reduced range of motion, which means that they are only able to move a fraction of what they were intended to. But this doesn’t have to be an excuse to not exercise. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to find the right exercise to improve your condition,” he explains.
Besides relieving some of the pain associated with arthritis, exercise can also help to increase flexibility and build muscle strength and endurance. The more you exercise, the easier the movements will become.
So where do you start? First, schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about what kinds of exercise will benefit your arthritis pain. Depending on what joints are affected, you will need to follow a specific regimen. Your doctor can help you determine which routine is best for you, or may recommend a physical therapist.
Whoever you choose to help you craft a fitness routine will help pinpoint what exercises are most important for you, but there are some general guidelines for what aerobic and strengthening exercises might be a good fit for you.
In order for aerobic exercise to be effective, it doesn’t have to be rigorous. Performing low-impact aerobic activities like walking or biking for 20 minutes per day can be all you need to get started.
“Exercising and taking on some form of aerobic activity helps lose weight,” says Dr. Frankel. “Not only is this important for overall health, but the less weight you carry around, the less pressure you are putting on your lower extremity joints, which is important for anyone suffering from arthritis.”
If you are suffering from joint pain in your knees, feet or ankles, try biking, as it puts less pressure on those joints than other aerobic activity might. Otherwise, walking, low-impact dancing or even household chores are a good start to managing your weight and your arthritis pain. In addition, certain aerobic workouts like pilates or yoga can help to increase your range of motion.
Swimming is also a popular aerobic exercise for those suffering from arthritis. Your doctor may recommend hydrotherapy, an exercise program that takes place in a pool, which is typically heated to increase circulation. Hydrotherapy is an ideal treatment for patients who are suffering from low back, hip, or knee pain and who might benefit from simple stretching movements like knee bends, raises, or swings. Doing these exercises under water as opposed to out of water helps to lessen pain and stress on joints.
If you are suffering from hand or wrist pain, chances are that aerobic exercise isn’t going to provide the same kind of results for your arthritis. Instead, Dr. Frankel recommends trying simple repetitive movements to reduce swelling and increase your range of motion.
“For someone with hand pain, just flexing and extending your fingers a little more each day or straightening or bending your wrist can have results in decreasing pain and increasing flexibility,” he says.
With medicine and exercise, chronic arthritis pain may not disappear, but it can be managed and even reduced. If you want to get started on an exercise plan but aren’t sure how to begin, make an appointment with a Main Line Health doctor to discuss your options.