When Osteoarthritis (OA) sufferers experience stiffness and discomfort in their joints, exercise may be the last thing on their minds. In fact, OA is the leading cause for disability in older adults. Yet, there is compelling evidence that regular exercise can actually help patients manage the pain associated with the disease. One reason is that it helps aid in weight management, which is crucial to minimizing joint strain. Additionally, exercise can reduce OA symptoms, improve functionality, and preserve range of motion.
With that said, exercising to manage OA without causing further discomfort proves to be challenging. For many patients, the solution lies in selecting low-impact exercises that won’t overwhelm joints and cartilage which have already been compromised. Here are some of the best types of physical activity you can incorporate into your care regimen for effective pain management:
One of the healthiest exercises of all, walking requires no equipment and can be done either indoors on a treadmill or outside. For minimized impact, take shorter strides and hold a pace at which you can maintain a conversation comfortably. If you have been sedentary for some time, build up the lengths of your walks in five-minute increments. The Arthritis Foundation recommends performing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 150 minutes weekly (30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week).
If you’re seeking a full-body cardio workout to really get your heart pumping without straining joints, there’s no better exercise than swimming. Beyond doing laps, aquatic exercises in general are beneficial because the buoyancy of the water offsets the weight placed on the joints. Consider taking a pool aerobics class led by an instructor, or head to your local gym to try some solo activities like water walking.
Range of Motion Exercises
Slow, steady range of motion exercises are excellent ways to promote flexibility. When combined with cardiovascular exercises, these exercises can also strengthen muscles and connective tissue. Wall squats, knee extensions, and leg lifts are just a few ways to keep the lower body limber. For the upper body, consider arm circles and overhead reaches to stay flexible throughout the shoulders and back.
Stretching or Yoga
Stretching can help to alleviate pain and stiffness while increasing flexibility and lowering stress. Follow-along yoga videos and classes are ideal because they offer guided routines so participants can ensure they’re completing the stretches correctly. Poses can be modified to accommodate varying degrees of ability, and practicing certain routines regularly can even help to reduce inflammation across all skill levels.
Like swimming, cycling is a low-impact aerobic exercise which can aid in weight management. Indoor stationary cycling is one popular way to maintain fitness year-round, while outdoor cycling on flat terrain may also be a good option for OA sufferers.
While exercise has its advantages for OA patients, it’s important to take note of any discomfort you experience during or after an activity. If you notice increasing pain, stop and talk to your doctor. Medical experts can recommend a routine tailored to your needs, which may include exercises performed under the supervision of a physical therapist.