If you suffer from arthritis, osteoarthritis, or joint pain caused by an injury, it may seem counterintuitive to exercise your joints. Joint pain limits the mobility of millions of Americans. These limitations can have serious negative effects on physical and mental health.
Rather than succumb to a life of pain management and limited mobility, take up a joint-friendly exercise routine that can actually help improve mobility and reduce your pain.
The purposes and benefits of exercise include the following:
- Exercise helps promote blood flow, which can help repair damaged tissue.
- Weight-bearing exercises help to build muscles that support your joints and cause less pressure to be placed on your joints during normal, daily movements.
- Weight-bearing exercises also help to strengthen bones, which can prevent stress fractures and breaks that are common in patients who suffer from osteoarthritis.
- Exercise in any form helps to maintain a healthy weight, which prevents unnecessary stress to be placed on joints.
- The movement of joints during exercise helps to prevent the build-up of restrictive scar tissue and prevents contractures. It also helps to replenish synovial fluid that lubricates the joints and makes it easier and less painful to move.
Exercises to Improve Joint Pain
Not all exercises are created equal and not all exercises are safe for your joints. If you have a specific joint injury, be sure to follow the guidance and direction of your doctor and physical therapist.
That’s right, simple walking!
Walking is much more low impact than alternative cardio activities and can be done without any supplies or a special facility. Walking for exercise should be done briskly. Move at a pace where you can carry on a conversation with a walking partner but have to take a deep breath every few words to a sentence. Be sure to wear comfortable, supportive shoes that won’t put more stress on your joints.
Walking is a simple, weight-bearing activity that will improve blood flow to reduce joint inflammation and promotes bone strengthening. Walking also helps maintain a healthy weight and improves cardiorespiratory health. Walk the dog, go shopping at the mall, or hop on a treadmill.
Swimming and Water Aerobics
Swimming is even more low impact than walking and is great for muscle strengthening that will help support your joints. Swimming or water aerobics is also one of the best cardiorespiratory workouts you can do and will support the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Swimming is ideal for those who suffer from arthritis and sports injuries. Because swimming is not a weight-bearing exercise, it offers relief for those who are severely limited by joint pain.
Yoga or tai-chi offers a great combination of stretching and strength training that helps to support joint health and reduce inflammation. Yoga helps to improve body awareness that is important in reducing reinjury. Yoga is very low impact and moves can be modified as needed to accommodate specific joint injuries.
Many people who suffer from joint pain due to any cause often hesitate at the thought of performing any weight lifting or strength training exercises. However, strength training is one of the best things you can do for joint health!
Strength training builds the muscles above and below joints that help support the joint. Stronger muscles help to reduce reliance on joints for movement, which decrease the chances of injury. Strength training promotes blood flow — which reduces inflammation — and bone strengthening.
This is not to say that you should rush to the gym and begin deadlifting your body weight, but you should incorporate moderate weight lifting into your exercise routine. You can use free weights, resistance machines, or engage in classes such as pilates or barre fitness.
Before you begin any weight lifting routine, consult your physician or physical therapist.
Cycling, whether mountain biking, road biking, spin cycling, or recumbent cycling, is a great workout and a low-impact, joint-friendly exercise option. Cycling is a great, low-impact alternative to walking or running and allows for the rider to control the resistance and speed.
Cycling helps to strengthen muscles that support joints and offers safe movements that promote blood flow and synovial fluid production.
Tips for Reducing Injury and Ease Painful Joints
When you begin a joint-friendly exercise routine, keep these tips in mind:
- Warm-up — Don’t put undue stress on joints, let them know a workout is coming!
- Rotate routines — Avoid doing the same exercises every day as this can cause overuse injuries
- Work within your limitations — There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all when it comes to exercise routines. Modify workouts as necessary.
- Work all muscle groups evenly — You don’t have to work every muscle every day, but make sure all groups are worked evenly to support and complement each other!
- Cool-down/ stretch — Never underestimate stretching and a recovery walk to “loosen things up!”
Keep these tips in mind to help reduce the chances of exercise-induced injury and to help ease the joint pain before, during, and after your workout.
Joint-friendly exercise routines can offer pain relief for many sufferers of chronic joint pain. Exercise can be an effective stand-alone joint pain treatment option or it can be used in addition to other therapies — stem cell and platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy, cortisone injections, pain management, and joint replacement.