8 Essential Everyday Exercises to Manage Pain

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  • With RA, It's Important to Move

    With RA, It's Important to Move

    If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know that exercise is good for you. But finding the time, energy, and motivation may be difficult — particularly if you're in pain.

    Research shows that RA patients exercise less than those who do not have RA. Yet, exercise is critical to joint function and pain relief, as well as preventing muscle wasting and weakness. It can also help boost your mood. Here are eight options that all work well for those with RA.

  • Water Exercise

    Water Exercise

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with RA show greater improvements in health after participating in hydrotherapy — exercising in warm water — than with other activities. And a recent review in the Journal of Musculoskeletal Care found that people with RA who participated in hydrotherapy had less pain and joint tenderness. Hydrotherapy even improved their mood and overall well-being.

    Water-based exercises, like swimming and water aerobics, also improve the use of affected joints and decrease pain.

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  • Tai Chi

    Tai Chi

    Tai chi (sometimes called “moving meditation”) is a traditional Chinese martial art that combines slow and gentle movements with mental focus. This exercise improves muscle function and stiffness and reduces pain and stress levels in patients with RA. Participants in one study conducted by the University of Leeds reported feeling better after practicing Tai chi, and had an overall brighter outlook on life.

    You can purchase DVDs to help you get started, or go to a class in your area. Dr. Paul Lam, a family physician in Sydney, Australia, has Tai chi DVDs specifically for patients with arthritis.

  • Biking

    Biking

    Those with RA are at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases and complications, so it’s important to get your heart pumping. But many aerobic exercises can be hard on your joints. That's why doctors often recommend biking as an excellent, low-impact option.

    Biking helps maintain cardiovascular health, slow down the progression of RA, increase leg strength, and reduce morning stiffness. You can bike outside, join a cycling group at the gym, or use a stationary bike in your home.

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  • Walking

    Walking

    Walking is one of the easiest and most convenient forms of exercise, and it has numerous benefits. In addition to getting your heart rate up, it can loosen your joints and help reduce pain. Walking can also lighten your mood. Research reported in the British Medical Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking 30 minutes a day boosted the moods in depressed patients faster than antidepressants.

    If you're having trouble with balance, try using walking poles to help stabilize yourself.

  • Yoga

    Yoga

    Yoga, which combines physical postures with breathing and relaxation, also helps improve RA symptoms. A 2013 study at the University of California showed that younger individuals with RA who practiced yoga experienced improvements in pain and mood. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University found similar results: RA patients had fewer tender and swollen joints than they did before starting yoga class. 

    "Yoga or yoga stretching can help patients improve flexibility and range of motion," says Mario Siervo, M.D., director of medical staff operations at Leon Medical Centers.  

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  • Other Types of Stretching

    Other Types of Stretching

    Healthcare professionals often recommend stretching for RA patients. 

    "Stretching should include the muscles of your arms, your back, your hips, the front and back of your thighs, and calves," says Dr. Philip Conwisar, an orthopedic surgeon in California. "Do some stretches first thing in the morning, take a stretch break instead of a coffee break, or stretch in the office for a few minutes."

    Naheed Ali, M.D., author of “Arthritis and You,” recommends finger curling, mild wrist bending, and thumb stretching as well.

  • Strength Training

    Strength Training

    RA often leads to weakened muscles, which can worsen joint pain. Strength training helps decrease pain and increase muscle strength. Stronger muscles better support your joints and make daily activities much easier. 

    Try lifting weights at home two to three times a week. Resistance bands are particularly beneficial for RA patients, as they tend to encourage more gradual movement. Talk to your doctor and consider working with a personal trainer if you’re worried about lifting weights on your own.

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  • Rebounding

    Rebounding

    Rebounding is a fun exercise performed on a mini-trampoline. It's considered one of the safest exercises for all ages. The rebounder absorbs the impact of the exercise, yet it gets your heart pumping and your joints moving. 

    You can burn calories while exercising at the intensity that feels right to you. If you're not confident about your balance, you can purchase a rebounder with a stabilizing bar.

  • Adjust to Your Condition

    Adjust to Your Condition

    Whichever exercise you choose, the important thing is to keep at it. Some days you’re likely to feel more pain than others. That's OK. Just exercise with less intensity on those days, or try a different type of exercise.

    If your hands won't grip a weight, use a resistance band around your wrist instead. If all you can do is walk, then go for a stroll outside. Even if it's at a slow pace, you'll likely feel much better afterwards.

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References:

  • Al-Qubaeissy, K., Fatoye, F., Goodwin, P., & Yohannes, A. (2013, March). The Effectiveness of Hydrotherapy in the Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review. Musculoskeletal Care 11(1), 3-18. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22806987
  • Ali, N. (2013, March). Arthritis and you: A comprehensive digest for patients and caregivers. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Bartlett, S. (2015, January 1). Psychophysiologic Effects of Yoga on Rheumatoid Arthritis. Retrieved from http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-mind-body-research/research/
  • Evans, S., Moieni, M., Lung, K., Tsao, J., Sternlieb, B., Taylor, M., & Zeltzer, L. (2013, November). Impact of Iyengar Yoga on Quality of Life in Young Women With Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Clinical Journal of Pain 29(11), 988-997. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23370082
  • Hanson, S., & Jones, A. (2015, January). Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from http://bjsm.bmj.com/citmgr?gca=bjsports;bjsports-2014-094157v1
  • Health Benefits of Water-based Exercise. (2013, March 6). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/health_benefits_water_exercise.html
  • Waite-Jones, J., Hale, C., Raven, K., & Lee, H. (2013, September 13). Psychosocial effects of Tai Chi exercise on people with rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Clinical Nursing 22(21-22), 3053-3061. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jocn.12327/abstract
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