Arthritis and exercise
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit
An integral part of arthritis treatment is instructing the patient in a good exercise program. The proper exercise program can mean the difference between a patient doing well and doing poorly.
Exercise is essential for people with arthritis. It's at least as important as medication. Exercise increases energy levels, helps with weight control, maintains cardiac health and stamina, increases bone and muscle strength and flexibility, reduces depression and fatigue, and helps with self-confidence.
Active movement of joints on a daily basis helps to keep them mobile. Joint health is achieved by strengthening the surrounding muscles. Joint mobility is improved by stretching ligaments and tendons to keep them supple. Joint movement facilitates transport of nutrients to cartilage.
Range-of motion exercises are gentle stretching exercises which move each joint to their prescribed limit. These exercises should be done on a daily basis. Range of motion (ROM) exercises are especially important for arthritis patients who have inflammatory issues. The tendency is to not want to move painful joints.
Strengthening exercises increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help to support joints, making them more stable, and helping a person move more easily, with less pain, and more self-confidence. The two types of strengthening exercises are isometric and isotonic. Isometric exercises involve tightening the muscles, without moving the joints. These exercises are especially useful when joint motion is impaired. In contrast, isotonic exercises involve strengthening the muscles by moving the joints.
There are a number of ways to increase muscle strength. These include machines or free weights. Any weight training should be done under the supervision of a knowledgeable expert.
Strength training has the added benefit of helping with osteoporosis.
Endurance or “cardio” exercises are activities that increase heart rate up to an optimal target level for at least thirty minutes. The target heart rate is computed based on age and physical condition. These exercises improve cardiovascular fitness. These exercises should be performed at least three times a week. Many arthritis patients who do cardio exercise increase their physical strength and notice an improvement in their arthritis symptoms. Endurance exercises for arthritis patients need to be done with some care to avoid joint injury. Low impact exercises are preferred.
Walking, water exercises or swimming, elliptical trainer, and bicycling are the best choices of endurance exercises for people with arthritis. They put less stress on the joints. Rowing is another good cardio exercise. One note of caution. Rowing should be avoided by people with low back issues.
Circuit training or varying the types of exercise is important in order to prevent both injury as well as boredom.
Other forms of exercise such as t’ai chi or yoga also are beneficial.
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