Exercising With Rheumatoid Arthritis: How Do I Start?

How People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Start Exercise Programs

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

How to Get Started on an Exercise Program

Here are some steps in getting started on an exercise program that is right for you:
  • Discuss exercise plans with your doctor.
  • Start with supervision from a physical therapist or qualified athletic trainer.
  • Apply heat to sore joints (while this is optional, many people with rheumatoid arthritis start their exercise program this way).
  • Stretch and warm up with range-of-motion exercises.
  • Start strengthening exercises slowly with small weights (a one- or two-pound weight can make a big difference).
  • Progress slowly.
  • Use cold packs after exercising (while this is optional, many people with rheumatoid arthritis complete their exercise routine this way).
  • Add aerobic exercise.
  • Consider appropriate recreational exercise (after doing range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise). Fewer injuries to joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis occur during recreational exercise if it is preceded by range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise that gets your body in the best condition possible.
  • Ease off if joints become painful, inflamed, or red; and work with your healthcare provider to find the cause and eliminate it.
  • Choose the exercise program you enjoy most and make it a habit.
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