Covers exercises that are helpful for a person with osteoarthritis. Includes aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises, and tips to motivate yourself. Includes things to avoid. Looks at why it is important to exercise and gives tips on how to exercise.
Osteoarthritis: Exercising With Arthritis
Exercise may make you feel better, reduce
your joint pain, and make it easier for you to do
A common symptom
of osteoarthritis is pain after activity, which may make
you not want to exercise. But you can use heat
and cold therapy or take pain medicines to help relieve pain and
make it easier for you to exercise and stay
Exercise should be balanced with rest and joint care. If
your joints hurt or you have redness or swelling, rest
your joints, then try a little exercise. You might also think
about using assistive devices, such as splints or braces, for
a short time to protect your joints.
unusual pain may be a sign of injury. Talk to your doctor if you have new pain
or if your pain is a lot worse.
with your doctor before you start an exercise
There are several types of exercises that you can do to help
keep your muscles strong and reduce joint pain and stiffness:
strengthens your heart and lungs and builds your
endurance. For aerobic exercise, you
Walk outdoors through
your neighborhood or on city paths. Or you can walk
indoors on a treadmill or at the mall.
Do water aerobics. You might try walking in
water that is up to your waist or your chest (if walking outdoors or indoors
isn't comfortable for you). The water helps take the
weight off painful joints. And it provides some
Swim at your local health club,
YMCA, or neighborhood pool. Many locations offer classes
designed for people with arthritis. Swimming is
a great choice for people who have hip or knee arthritis,
because water takes weight off the joints while also providing some
Bike outdoors or inside
on an indoor bike.
Be more active in your daily routine. Vacuuming, housework, gardening, or yard work can all be aerobic.
Note: Start slowly.
For example, do 10 minutes of activity at a time, 1 or 2 times
a day. Then work your way up to where you can do it
for a longer time. Aim for at least 2½ hours of
moderate activity a week. One way to do this is to be
active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week.
Strength exercises improve and keep the muscles in
your body strong. Strength exercises include:
weights or dumbbells or using elastic tubing. You can use these at your local
health club, or you can buy them to use at home.
Using an exercise
machine at home or weight machines at your local health club.
Note: Before you start to do
strength exercises, ask a
physical therapist or
your doctor which exercises would be best for you. And ask how to do strength
exercises safely so you don't get hurt. Exercise books and videotapes can also show you how to do
strength exercises the right way.
Range-of-motion exercises help keep you flexible
and prevent more damage to your joints.
Range-of-motion exercises include:
Moving each joint through its full motion. Move each joint as far as you can in each direction without causing pain, 8 to 12 times each day. Remember to do all the little joints, such as those in your fingers.
Long, slow stretches to keep the soft tissues around the joints flexible. For example, stretches for
the legs include calf stretch, quadriceps (thigh) stretch, and hamstring
(tendons in the back of the knee) stretch.
target a certain joint such as the knee in order to improve motion
in that joint and prevent more damage. An example of
this is a quadriceps stretch to keep your knees flexible.
Note: Exercises that stretch
and strengthen the muscles and joints can help
older adults keep their balance, which can help
If you have arthritis of the knee,
you may be able to reduce the stress on your knee by wearing the right shoes or by adding insoles to your shoes. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the footwear that would be best for you.
Taping the kneecap in a certain position
may also help reduce pain. If you and
your doctor find that taping helps you, you can learn how to put the
tape on by yourself.
If an activity makes you feel sore, try something
else. You can also change how you do the
activity. Here are some things you can try:
Rest between each exercise
If you like to walk or swim, go a
shorter distance. You might take two or three short walks
in a day rather than one long walk.
shorter workout, then rest and do a little more
Lift less weight.
Ask your physical therapist or doctor
Talk to your physical therapist or doctor before
you start an exercise program. Ask what kind of exercise is best for you. He or
she can help you learn the right way to do the exercise. Also ask:
How to exercise if a joint is sore or if a
joint is swollen.
If your joints hurt, try to rest them. Use
assistive devices that can help
you do your daily activities with less stress
on your joints. Your doctor may suggest
over-the-counter medicines to help
reduce pain in your joints.
Other steps to help get rid of
pain and stiffness include
heat or cold therapy. You can use heat and cold
therapies before or after exercise. It just depends on
what works better for you.
For heat therapy, you can:
Put a warm towel
on the joint that
Put a hot pack
on the joint that
Take a warm bath or
Get water therapy in a heated pool or
Cold therapy may relieve pain or numb
an area. Use a cold pack (such as a bag of ice or frozen
vegetables wrapped in a thin towel).
still important to try to exercise a little, after your pain is
relieved. Walking is a great way to stay active. If you have pain when you walk, or if you
want to switch back and forth between walking and other
exercises, try walking in waist- or chest-deep water, swimming, or
riding an indoor bike.
Stitik TP, et al. (2010). Osteoarthritis. In WR Frontera et al., eds., DeLisa's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice, 5th ed., vol. 1, pp. 781–809. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.