Moderate exercise can reduce arthritis pain

Foundation gives tips for activities

What was once thought a bad combination -- arthritis and exercise -- is now considered a beneficial partnership.

Research has shown that a program of moderate exercise can offset the pain and inconvenience of the disease that can strike at any age. Not only does a well-rounded exercise program reduce the risk of heart disease and increase mobility, it helps reduce the psychological and emotional pain that often accompanies the development of any disease or disorder.

Depending on the severity of your arthritis, your health care provider might suggest isometric or isotonic exercises. Isometric exercise, such as pushing one palm against the other, involves contracting the muscle without moving the joint. Isotonic exercise, such as a biceps curl, involves contracting the muscle while moving one or more joints. These exercises easily can be done using light weights, elastic tubing or exercise bands.

The Arthritis Foundation provides helpful tips for using everyday activities as ways to gain function and to ease pain associated with arthritis.


When at a red light or stop sign, take advantage of the time by grabbing the steering wheel and gently pushing back into your seat. This isometric (against resistance, without significant shortening of muscle fibers) exercise is good because it doesn't require you to make dramatic joint movement.

Note that people with rheumatoid arthritis with hand involvement and those with fibromyalgia should avoid this type of exercise. It puts pressure on one particular muscle without moving the joint, which can cause soreness.

Try tightening your abdominal or buttock muscles at a stoplight. Hold for 10 seconds and release.

Vacuuming uses both arm and leg muscles. Start by vacuuming one room each week and then graduate to one room each day. If you experience pain and swelling immediately after an activity, you've overdone it. If the pain continues after two hours, ask your doctor or therapist to suggest modifications.

Bending down to load or unload the dishwasher can provide a good stretch for back and leg muscles. The old fashioned way of washing them yourself in warm water can soothe sore joints and provide a nice stretch for your fingers.

Walk the aisles of your grocery store before shopping and make a note of the items you will need. Use the cart for support if necessary.

Exaggerate your movements when getting dressed. Reach to put on your jacket, bend low to put on shoes and socks. Morning movement can lessen some of the early stiffness common to people with certain types of arthritis.

Get up and get a healthy snack, get a glass of water or fold laundry during TV commercials. It might not seem like much, but studies show even small movements can help burn more calories and contribute to keeping your weight down.


When sitting at your computer, take a moment and stretch your neck and shoulder muscles. Turn your head to one side then the other. Keep your head level when doing this. Bend your head down and then back to a neutral position. Keep your shoulders level and sit up tall but relaxed.

Gently roll your shoulder joints in a circle when sitting. Shoulder pain is the second most frequent reason for orthopedic surgeon visits after knee complaints. Lack of exercise relative to this joint can cause pain, stiffness and eventually limited movement.

Sit in a rocking chair while watching TV or reading. The movement of rocking is relaxing and can improve strength and flexibility especially in your knees.

Piano playing is a great exercise for the fingers. It's one of the few activities in which fingers are individually stretched and strengthened.

Fairs, festivals, zoos and museums are designed for the activity of walking, which is an excellent weight-bearing exercise that strengthens bones.

Ann Walker is a personal trainer and kinesiologist and has a master's degree in exercise physiology.

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