Arthritis is a condition that plagues many of us as we grow older. Our knees begin to ache, our backs begin to stiffen and largely this can be due to arthritis. There are, however, methods we can put in place to help reduce and alleviate the pain of arthritis. One of the most prevalent and effective methods is in fact, exercise.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, exercise is actually considered to be the most effective non-drug therapy when it comes to pain reduction for arthritis.
Before we delve into the benefits behind exercise in arthritis management, let’s first take a look into exactly what arthritis is. Arthritis Australia states that although arthritis is one of the most common conditions in Australia, affecting over 3.9 million people, it is not very well understood.
There are many different forms of arthritis, however, they present with largely similar features and symptoms. Simply put, arthritis is the inflammation of a joint or series of joints within the body. It can be present systemically, as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), or specific to certain joints, as Osteoarthritis (OA). Understanding that arthritis is actually inflammation and not your joints “wasting away to bone on bone” is very important in understanding the importance of exercise in its management.
Whilst exercising a joint with arthritis may make you feel as though you are doing more harm than good, that isn’t necessarily true. Consider for example when you injure a muscle, you want to get moving as soon as possible to help reduce the swelling. This is no different than with Arthritis treatment. Increasing blood flow to the site and strengthening the muscles that support the joint will help reduce the pain associated with the joint.
Exercising with Arthritis
How to best exercise with arthritis depends largely on the severity and the joints affected. Below we have listed various exercise modalities that would best suit different cases of arthritis. These can also be utilised in conjunction with one another for a more complete management plan.
1. Hydro / Water Based Exercise
Hydrotherapy or water-based exercise has a number of benefits when it comes to arthritis management. The pressure of the water provides compression, which can help reduce inflammation. The buoyancy of the water also reduces the stress on joints, making it easier and less painful to move. Hydrotherapy is a great option for more severe cases of arthritis.
2. Cycling or Walking
If walking is possible, and not too painful, it would be the primary choice when it comes to cardiovascular exercise. Walking allows us to weight bear and strengthen the muscles needed for this weight-bearing. If walking causes too much pain, cycling is a great alternative. Cycling allows us to exercise our heart and lungs without placing added stress on our knee joints. This exercise is also extremely important for the management and prevention of many other conditions/diseases on top of arthritis management.
3. Strength Training
Resistance training improves both the endurance and strength of muscles. Training the specific muscles that assist in the movement and support of a joint will allow for less stress to be placed on that joint. Improving the strength of the musculature surrounding the affected joints will reduce stress on the joint. Training supporting structures, such as the hip if you have knee OA, will allow us to mechanically load the knee better, thereby reducing stress on the joint.
Correctly mobilising a joint, specifically a joint with arthritis, both reduces pain and helps manage the long-term health of a joint. Having more available range in a joint allows for greater opportunity for loading. If you think about hitting the same spot on a timber block over and over again, it will likely make a deep imprint. If we had a bigger block and spread out where we hit it, we would make more imprints but not as deep. Mobility works in a similar way, if we can spread the loading over a greater joint range, we can better share the impact, thereby reducing the damage. Mobility is an often neglected, but forms a very important part of a complete management plan for arthritis.
Work With an Exercise Physiologist
If you or someone you know suffers from a form of arthritis, exercise is a great way to help manage the condition. If the above topic or any of the information provided has you interested feel free to get in touch with us today on 07 5456 1599 to make an appointment with an experienced exercise physiologists on the Sunshine Coast, Cooloola Coast or Brisbane.