Range of motion exercises for arthritis

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.

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Information from the Arthritis Foundation

Range-of-motion exercises help maintain normal joint function by steadily increasing the “range” the joint can travel.

To help relieve pain, people with arthritis often keep affected joints bent – especially in the knees, hands and fingers – because it’s more comfortable. While this may relieve discomfort, holding a joint in the same position for too long can cause permanent loss of mobility.

Range-of-motion exercises help maintain normal joint function by increasing and preserving joint mobility and flexibility. In this group of exercises, affected joints are conditioned by gently straightening and bending the joints in a controlled manner as far as they comfortably will go. During the course of a range-of-motion exercise program, the joints are stretched progressively farther until normal or near-normal range is achieved and maintained.

Also, range-of-motion exercises are an important form of warm-up and stretching, and should be done prior to performing strengthening or endurance exercises or engaging in any other physical activity.

These exercises need to be done daily to help keep joints fully mobile and prevent stiffness and deformities. ROM (range-of-motion) exercises are especially important for arthritis patients, who tend not to want to move painful joints.

These exercises should be done twice daily to maintain range of motion.

Discuss with your doctor or physical therapist which activities within each category are right for you.

Learn how to do exercises properly and safely. Talk with a physical therapist who knows proper exercise techniques and is familiar with your condition.

Maintain a well-balanced program. You should move your joints through their full range of motion twice a day in addition to walking, swimming or performing another aerobic activity.

Make working out a part of your routine. Set aside specific times for exercise and don't skip workouts.

Warm up carefully. Start by massaging stiff or sore areas, then do gentle range-of-motion and strengthening exercises for at least 10 minutes. At the end of a workout, cool down by doing the same exercises at a slower pace for 5 to 10 minutes.

Work at a comfortable, smooth pace.

Pay attention to your body. Don't exercise a painful or swollen joint; switch to another activity. Follow the two-hour pain rule: An activity is too strenuous if joint or muscle pain lasts two hours after exercising or is worse the next day.

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