Why you have to exercise:
When your joint surfaces lose the cartilage and fluid that adds cushioning between the bones, movement is often painful. People tend to move less to avoid pain, and this sedentary lifestyle leads to an increased risk of more health complications such as cardiovascular disease. Less active, less fit persons have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
For individuals with osteoarthritis (OA) in the knee or elsewhere, research suggests programs that combine strengthening and aerobic exercise, reduce symptoms, improve joint motion and function, enhance coordination and balance, and control body weight. Regular moderate exercise even has been found to improve cartilage health in individuals at risk for developing knee OA. Having weak thigh muscles (quadriceps) is a risk factor for both developing OA in the knee and having greater disability.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic systemic inflammatory disease, and it has been widely thought that limiting exercise would slow the joint destruction and disability. However, inactivity also leads to decreased pain tolerance, weak muscles, stiff joints and poor balance. Fortunately, regular exercise with a moderate level of intensity has actually been proven to be effective in improving muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness in people with RA! Evidence has shown that intensive weight-bearing exercises improve aerobic fitness and muscle strength of those with RA without any increase in disease activity.
As a consequence of their disease and its treatment, people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at greater risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality than are their healthy peers. This is all the more reason long- term regular exercise is very beneficial for people with RA. Exercise has demonstrated an improvement in functional ability by the use of functional tests and outcome measures. Additional benefits include less bone loss and small-joint damage associated with RA and no increase in pain or disease activity. Exercise also decreases the level of psychological stress in people with RA. How can you afford not to get moving?!
What you need to be cautious of with exercise:
Overuse of an actively inflamed (hot, painful, swollen) joint may aggravate the inflammation and increase joint damage. It’s important that you listen to your body and the state of your joints so you can adjust your exercise routine as necessary. If you have a flare-up, you should rest your inflamed joints by avoiding vigorous activity. In order to keep your joints healthy, however, you need to continue moving them. You should maintain the range-of-motion exercises that have been recommended for you from a health care professional. Move each joint slowly and gently through its entire range of motion. Three repetitions done daily within your pain-free range may even decrease and shorten the flare-up.
Figure out a way to get a workout that does not increase your pain. Does weight bearing exercise hurt? Try seated workouts! We have the solution for you!
Remember to consult your physician before starting an exercise program.
- Evidence for the benefit of aerobic and strengthening exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. (2003) Stentrom et al. Vol. 49 (3) 428-34
- De Jong et al. Is a long term high-intensity exercise program effective and safe in patients with rheumatoid arthritis? Arth and Rheum 2003 Vol 48 (9) 2415-2424