Joint stiffness, pain and inflammation are common symptoms of arthritis and prevent many people from participating in everyday activities. Staying active when you have arthritis is important as it will help to maintain your bone health and improve your quality of life.
Arthritis is a term used for joint inflammation. Arthritis consists of over 100 disorders from relatively mild conditions such as tendinitis to chronic, sometimes debilitating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. A key characteristic of many types of arthritis is inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Signs of inflammation are pain, redness, swelling and warmth around the affected joint. Inflammation of a joint may prevent you from using it properly, because of joint stiffness and pain, and can result in a loss of function of that joint. Once you are diagnosed with arthritis, it is imperative that you begin an exercise program to maintain your bone health.
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The thought of exercising when you have joint stiffness and pain may scare you, but it’s one of the best things for you. Being inactive can actually increase joint stiffness and pain. This occurs because when you don’t use a joint, the muscles surrounding the joint weaken which puts stress on the joint, resulting in pain. Exercise helps to decrease joint stiffness and pain, increase range of motion and flexibility and increases your overall fitness.
While you may not have a lot of control over your arthritis treatment plan, exercise is the one component that you have complete control over. Yes, you may have to motivate yourself to get up and active even when you’re feeling sore and stiff. Just keep in mind that once you get moving, you’ll feel better and you’ll be helping to maintain your bone health.
Your exercise routine should include the following three types of activity for optimal bone health benefits:
1. Range of Motion Exercises (Flexibility exercises) – gentle stretching should be done every day to prevent joint stiffness. Stretching should be performed prior to participating in other exercise to warm up your muscles and prevent injury. Start slowly and work your way up to 15 minutes of flexibility exercises per day before adding in strengthening and aerobic activities.
2. Strengthening Exercises – this type of exercise will help you to build muscle which will help to protect the affected joints. This type of exercises involves using weights or resistance that make your muscles work hard, thereby strengthening them. There are two types of strengthening exercises: isotonic (involves moving the joint) and isometric (no joint movement is involved). Isometric exercises are good for people with arthritis because they strengthen the muscle by tightening the muscle which doesn’t involve moving the joint. However, the benefit of isotonic exercise is that you can adapt the amount of resistance depending on how you’re feeling. If you have a lot of inflammation, you can use a lower weight and if you’re feeling good and have little or no inflammation you can increase the weight. Try performing strengthening exercises every other day in order to get the best bone health results. If you notice increased inflammation or pain, take an extra day off to let your body recover.
3. Cardiovascular Exercise (Aerobic activities) – these are types of activities that get your heart pumping. Aerobic exercise will help to improve your overall fitness levels, strengthen your bones, control your weight and help improve your mood among other health benefits. Aim for 30 minutes of low impact activities, three times per week, to lessen the stress on your joints. Walking, cycling and swimming are all great low impact activities to try. If you get outside, you can change up your route in order to prevent yourself from getting bored with the same old routine.
Before beginning any type of exercise program, it is important to speak to your medical professional to make sure that the exercise program that you are going to do is appropriate for your condition.