What You Need to Know About Exercising With Arthritis

Starting an Exercise Program

People with arthritis should discuss exercise options with their doctors and other healthcare providers. Most doctors recommend exercise for their patients. Many people with arthritis begin with easy range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics. People with arthritis can participate in a variety of, but not all, sports and exercise programs. Your healthcare provider will know which, if any, sports are off-limits.
Your healthcare provider may also have suggestions about how to get started or may refer you to a physical therapist. It is best to find a physical therapist who has experience working with people who have arthritis. The therapist will design an appropriate home exercise program and teach you about:
  • Arthritis pain-relief methods
  • Proper body mechanics (placement of the body for a given task, such as lifting a heavy box)
  • Joint protection
  • Conserving energy.

How Often Should I Exercise?

How often you should exercise depends on the type of exercise you are doing:
  • Range-of-motion exercises can be done daily, and should be done at least every other day.
  • Strengthening exercises should be done every other day, unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.
  • Endurance exercises should be done for 30 to 60 minutes, three to five times a week, unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints. Also, you don't have to do this physical activity all at once. Research has shown that multiple 10-minute sessions can be effective.

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

Most experts agree that if exercise causes pain that lasts for more than an hour, it is too strenuous. A person with arthritis should work with his or her physical therapist or doctor to adjust his or her exercise program when any of the following signs of strenuous exercise appear:
  • Unusual or persistent fatigue
  • Increased weakness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Increased joint swelling
  • Continuing pain (pain that lasts more than one hour after exercising).
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