Exercise to Relieve Arthritis Pain and Stiffness

Posted on March 06,2017

If you’re suffering from arthritis, even the simplest movements can become difficult. And on top of the physical symptoms, frustration with your condition may affect you psychologically and emotionally.


Fortunately, following an exercise program has been shown to address all of these issues. Getting started may be difficult, but with the help of a doctor or physical therapist, you can find a program that works for you.

Benefits of Exercise for Arthritis Sufferers

If your joints are sore and stiff you may assume that exercise will only make the pain worse. In fact, exercise is essential to maintaining range of motion and reducing pain, stiffness, and swelling. The longer you remain inactive the more your joints will deteriorate, and eventually even basic movements will become difficult. Exercise can help preserve and regain mobility.

Physical benefits of exercise:

  • Increases muscle strength around joints
  • Maintains bone strength
  • Helps control weight
  • Improves balance

Other benefits of exercise:

  • Boosts energy throughout the day
  • Makes it easier to get a good night's sleep
  • Enhances quality of life

Exercises To Ease Arthritis Pain

The major goals of an arthritis exercise program are:

  • Strengthening muscles around the joints
  • Increasing range of motion

There are many ways to accomplish these goals, and deciding which exercises are appropriate for you will depend on your baseline fitness level and the severity of your arthritis. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you decide on the right program.

Strength Building

Building strong muscles is essential to protecting your joints. When muscles are weak, strains from everyday activities falls entirely on the joints, which makes arthritis worse. A simple weight training program is the most effective way to build strength. Be sure to alternate muscle groups to avoid overworking a particular area. It’s also important to use proper form to fend off injury--meeting with a physical therapist or personal trainer is key.

Range of Motion

These exercises focus on relieving joint stiffness and maintaining your ability to do everyday things, like reaching for a cabinet or bending to pick something up. Unlike strength-building exercises, most range of motion exercises should be done daily. Examples include rolling the shoulders forward and then back, or lifting your arms over your head. While these exercises may seem simple, they are essential to preventing further joint damage.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise benefits overall fitness, cardiovascular health and weight management. Being overweight has been shown to make arthritis worse as joints are forced to carry excess weight. For that reason, most doctors recommend weight loss as a key step towards relieving arthritis pain.

Walking, bicycling and swimming are the most common forms of aerobic exercise, but any activity that increases your heart rate can also provide an aerobic workout. If you have a heart condition be sure to check with your doctor before beginning an aerobic exercise program.

Aquatic Exercise

You can do more than just swim laps in a pool. Water-based exercise programs are ideal for people with arthritis because water offers resistance without putting excessive pressure on your joints. Aquatic exercise also provides an opportunity to combine strength, range of motion and aerobic exercises into one program.  

Water is 600-700 times more resistant than air, which provides a safe yet challenging way to increase strength. Since the resistance in water is even, you won’t risk sudden strains or serious damage to your muscles and joints.

Buoyancy--the property that causes you to float--reduces the strain on your lower body and helps support your arms and legs as they move through the water. Only 50% of your weight is put on your lower body when standing in waist-deep water, and only 10% when standing in neck-deep water. That means your hips, knees, and back get a break.

Many physical therapy and rehabilitation centers have pools with higher-temperature water, which is beneficial for arthritis relief. Warm water (95-98 degrees F) helps increase blood flow to your muscles, causing them to relax. Not only will this feel good, but it will make it easier to move as your joints loosen up.


The hardest part about exercising is getting started. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to decide on a realistic and safe exercise program. Always be sure to drink plenty of water and rest frequently. While you may want to push yourself, going too far can lead to injury.

Arthritis can be painful and frustrating, but exercise is a proven method to reduce joint pain, improve flexibility, and feel better about yourself.

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