How To Protect Your Joints During Exercise
While exercise can help you function better on a daily basis and prevent muscles from atrophying, your exercise choices have to be specific to maintaining joint integrity and pain management, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Try making these simple adjustments:
Benefits Of Exercising In Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
A proper exercise routine can help improve your overall health and fitness level without hurting your joints.
The cartilage in our joints requires movement to absorb nutrients and remove waste, making physical activity an essential part of your disease management.
Regular, moderate low-impact exercise provides a host of benefits, including:
- Reducing joint pain and stiffness
- Increasing joint range of motion
- Strengthening muscles, ligaments, and cartilage in the joints
- Helping maintain bone strength and density
- Improving balance
- Raising self-esteem and improving sense of well-being
- Helping reduce and manage stress
- Reduceing the risk of other chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease
The following guidelines will help you start your exercise journey.
Speak to Your Healthcare Team
Dont start an exercise program without first speaking to your doctor. Even if you have mild to moderate rheumatoid arthritis and feel your choice of workout is suited to your needs, its important that you speak to your doctor as they may have valuable insight that can help you get the maximum benefits from your workouts.
Make a Plan
The most challenging element of a successful exercise regime also happens to be the most crucial and its year-round consistency.
Most people struggle to maintain consistency with their exercise routines. It can be challenging for RA patients during disease flareups and adverse weather conditions.
Make Exercise a Priority
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Finding The Right Exercise For Yourself
Beyond finding the time and committing to exercise, its also important to find activities you enjoy, so youll be motivated to do them regularly. While your mobility may be more limited than before you had RA, you can still find fun ways to stay active. Consider walking in nature, trying a swim class, or taking a sturdy bike for a spin on a nice day.
If youre looking to start exercising, be sure to talk to your doctor first. With the right guidance, exercise can be an invaluable part of an effective RA treatment plan.
Additional reporting by Erica Patino
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Water Walking For Arthritis
Water Walking is one of the easiest ways for those with arthritis to put the local rec center or backyard pool to use. This one is also easy to learn you already know it! Simply take your walking routine into the pool. While walking in the pool obviously requires more switchbacks, the benefits are more than worth getting turned around for. The simple act of walking in a pool helps joint pain these ways:
- The buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on joints.
- According to arthritis.org, pools between 82 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit can actually help to reduce arthritic pain.
- Water walking eliminates factors typically involved with walking for arthritis such as sweating profusely, and typically ensures a smooth and flat surface. Additionally, due to the resistance of the water, walking in the pool burns more calories than normal walking.
Tai Chi And Rheumatoid Arthritis
Tai chi is a gentle movement exercise that originated in China and is now practiced worldwide. In tai chi, practitioners work slowly and smoothly through a system of movements and postures that are meant to connect the body with the mind. In general, tai chi proponents point to the following health benefits:
- Greater strength
Recent research studies suggest the following benefits of tai chi:
- Greater strength
- Better endurance
- Improved walking
Arthritis Australia and the Australian Rheumatology Association endorse a special set of 12 tai chi movements called Tai Chi for Arthritis, which were designed in 1997 specifically to help ease joint pain and stiffness for those with rheumatoid arthritis.
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Shoulder Flexion And Extension
Daily activities, such as putting away groceries, require shoulder flexion and extension. These are movements that bring the arms out in front of the body.
- Stand in neck or shoulder-deep water with feet planted on the pool bottom, about hip-width apart.
- Hold arms straight in front of the body at shoulder height, with just a slight bend in the elbows
- Focusing on the shoulders, chest, and back, sweep arms down toward the sides of the body and continue past the body, if possible.
- Sweep the arms forward, returning to the start position.
- Before each sweep, rotate the hands so they are cupped in the direction of movement.
Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Tools that add resistance, such as hand paddles, webbed gloves, or foam barbells, can make these shoulder exercises more challenging. Webbed gloves made of neoprene and can also help keep hands warm.
Perceptions Of Ra Patients Regarding Exercise
Whilst there are numerous reasons why exercise is considered to be of fundamental benefit, it is apparent that the RA population is less physically active than the general population. Therefore, it is important for those involved in the care of RA patients to be aware of factors that may positively and negatively affect the uptake of and compliance to an exercise prescription.
The perceptions of people with RA may provide reasoning for the lower physical activity levels of RA patients when compared to the general population . Thus, understanding the perceptions of RA patients regarding exercise is salient to the role of the health professional .
A further issue relating to the health professional is their own assertion and certainty when prescribing exercise to those with RA. In the study by Iversen et al. , only 51% of rheumatologists reported they felt confident that they knew when exercises were appropriate for their patients with RA. Correspondingly, recent research has revealed that patients perceive uncertainties within the health profession regarding the impact of exercise on pain and joint health. In particular, this was in relation to whether the sensation of exercise discomfort or pain equated to actual joint damage and the effects of different types of exercise on the health of their joints . These concerns pose a further challenge to RA patients .
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Getting Started With An Ra Exercise Plan
Patients with RA can and should exercise regularly, period, says Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, vice chair of rheumatology and director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and an assistant professor at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. However, there may be modifications needed to try different modalities, depending on your level of fitness and ability. Think about water-based exercises to start, then move up to more traditional land-based exercises, or start with chair yoga instead of classic yoga classes.
For starters, always warm up before exercising and cool down afterward, Dr. Husni says. Also, be sure to use pain as your guide. Exercise should not be painful, so the onset of pain tells you to slow down or modify your exercise, she explains.
The goal is to keep moving at your fitness level to prevent injuries, Husni says. If you are new to exercise, you may benefit from group classes or a trainer, so someone with experience can watch and teach you how to exercise safely.
Its important to incorporate exercise into your routine as soon as youre diagnosed with RA. The best strategy is to consult a physical therapist specifically trained in inflammatory conditions youll benefit by working with an expert whos familiar with your RA needs.
Provides Weightless Relief For Joints
Unlike running, jogging, or even walking, swimming puts little to no additional strain on your joints and muscles, since the water supports 90 percent of your weight. There is no jolt from impact with the ground when youre swimming.
In other words, swimming can be a great choice if you have moderate to severe arthritis and have trouble with other exercise routines that do not protect the joints.
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If Youre Not An Exercise Fan Maybe You Just Havent Given Water Exercise Moves A Try Yet
Lets get this little misconception out of the way: Water exercise is not just for senior citizens with joint pain. Water exercise for people with arthritis is for all ages at all levels of ability and disability, says Julie Mulcahy, DPT, physical therapist with McLaren Health Management Group, a Michigan-based organization that provides home health care.
From water walking to water aerobics, and even water Zumba, aquatic exercise programs can be modified to any fitness need from a gentle range-of-motion and floating routine to high-level intensity workouts for athletes.
For people with arthritis, recent research has shown that water exercise can be a safe and effective exercise option. One study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found women with rheumatoid arthritis who did water-based exercises three times a week for sixteen weeks saw significant improvements in disease activity, pain, and functional capacity compared to those who did land-based exercises. And in a recent Cochrane Review of 13 trials that included 1,190 patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis , researchers found aquatic exercise may help improve pain and function.
What If I Cant Swim
For most water exercise classes, you do not have to be able to swim to join in. You will not need to put your head underwater but you should feel confident to let go of the pool edge and walk around in the pool on your own. If you need assistance with this, one-on-one sessions with a physiotherapist in a hydrotherapy pool may be more suitable for you until you gain more confidence in the water.
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How To Start Swimming For Arthritis And What To Avoid
Generally, it is important to ensure that any exercises you take part in are not going to put unnecessary pressure on affected joints. The breaststroke is typically not advised, for instance, because of the high amount of exertion on the knee joints.
It is also important to avoid swimming without stretching first. Exercising without warming up increases the risk of injury. Additionally, swimming may not be for everyone. Be sure to follow any advice given by your doctor in regards to your specific situation.
Many rec centers and swimming facilities offer set hours for open swim, lap swimming, and classes. Check with your local facility to see what days and times will work best for you.
Manage Joint Pain By Taking Your Walking Routine To The Pool
Looking for a great summer workout? Leave your gym shoes in the closet and turn to water exercises instead. Swimming and walking is becoming increasingly popular, with classes popping up across the country and for good reason, says Vennie Jones, aquatic coordinator for the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center in Dallas.
Like all water exercises, water walking is easy on the joints. The waters buoyancy supports the bodys weight, which reduces stress on the joints and minimizes pain, says Jones. And its still a great workout. Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so as you walk, youre really strengthening and building muscle. You do not bear weight while swimming and walking, however, so youll still need to add some bone-building workouts to your routine.
A lot of clients I see tell me a warm pool is heavenly, says Lori Sherlock, an assistant professor in West Virginia Universitys department of exercise physiology. Physicians and physiologists have warmed to the idea of water walking as therapy and good exercise for people with joint pain and damage for its many benefits, which include:
“Many aquatic centers, YMCAs and community pools have programs designed for people with arthritis.”
What you need: For deep-water walking, a flotation belt keeps you upright and floating at about shoulder height.
Add intensity: Lifting your knees higher helps boost your workout.
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Swimming Gear And Equipment Isnt Inherently Ra
RA affects my grip strength and causes swelling and pain in the joints of my hand. From the start to the finish of a swim session, these joints are taxed.
Putting on a swim cap, tugging at the tight Lycra as I put on a swimsuit, and putting on swim goggles present challenges before Iâve even approached the pool. Then, entering a pool via ladder meant grabbing and holding onto the rail as I went into the pool.
Grabbing onto a kickboard was yet another stressor for my hands, which were already over gripping the board and edge of the pool wall from anxiety.
Be mindful of your pain management regimen and consider the modifications it may require.
Who Benefits From Water Exercise
Water exercise can be beneficial for people with RA. It is particularly helpful for people:
- with arthritis in several joints as all joints can be exercised at once
- with conditions affecting feet, knees, hips and back
- preparing for or recovering from joint replacement surgery
- who find it difficult or painful to exercise on land.
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Improving Heart And Lung Health With Ra
Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of developing heart and lung disease. That risk can be decreased with regular aerobic exercise.
In Latin, aerobic means with oxygen. Aerobic exercise requires the body to take in and use oxygen at a higher rate than normalbreathing is more labored and the heart beats faster. Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, which reduces the risk of disease and helps the body use oxygen more efficiently.
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What Exercises Should Be Avoided With Rheumatoid Arthritis
When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your joints can be seriously affected. This means that you may find it difficult to do some basic exercises like walking or lifting weights.
In addition, avoiding certain activities can help to lower the risk of developing further arthritis symptoms. It is important to take caution when exercising with rheumatoid arthritis as any activity that puts excessive force on your joints can aggravate the condition.
This includes anything from weightlifting to running. Talk to your doctor about what specific activities you should avoid and make sure to monitor your progress carefully so you dont overdo it. If you are taking medication for rheumatoid arthritis, be aware that some exercises may trigger an increase in inflammation and worsen your symptoms.
Stick to those activities that have been specifically approved by your doctor as part of their treatment plan. If pain limits how much you can do, discuss this with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine or increasing old ones. And if things get too tough stop doing whatever it is altogether and see if they will prescribe something else instead.
As needed, adjust medications or modify other treatments based on how the persons symptoms are responding . In extreme cases where no improvement is seen after adjusting medications or modifying therapies, surgery may become an option.
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My Plans For The Future
We are already towards the end of January, and I have continued to swim every day. Honestly, I don’t see an end in sight. With air temperatures averaging 20 degrees and the water around 34 degrees, the shores of Lake Michigan are turning into ice with large ice chunks and some completely frozen areas on the beaches. Finding open water is getting harder. While I decided early on that, I would make cold water therapy a daily practice, the way I do it may change, especially as I wait for spring to arrive. Thankfully, the ice will be melting in March, but the water temperature will stay around 34 and slowly creep up into the 40’s come May. While I may have to cold dip in a tub in my backyard for a few weeks, come March, I will have lots of time for wild swimming until summer.
Have you tried cold water swimming or another type of cold water therapy such as a cold shower or even a fun polar plunge with friends? How did you feel afterward? I would love to know in the comments below!
I have more blog posts coming up discussing my tips and tricks for cold water swimming for rheumatoid arthritis. I am also working on an experiment-I guess it is a new challenge! Make sure to sign up for my newsletter to be updated on when these blog posts drop!
Water Exercise Boosts Cardiovascular Fitness
Water exercise works your whole body in multiple directions and promotes smooth movements , says Dr. Mulcahy. It also allows you to work at a higher level that you could tolerate on land, which helps improve mobility and strengthen cardiovascular endurance. Patients with chronic joint conditions often say they feel free from their disability when in the water, she adds.
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Talk With Others Who Understand
On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis, more than 170,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.
How do hand exercises help you reach your goals? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.