Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a type of arthritis. It causes chronic joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It also causes red, scaly patches on the skin.

Moving and stretching may seem like the last thing you’d want to do if you have inflamed or stiff joints, but exercise can actually improve the symptoms of PsA. It can also reduce the odds of developing some common comorbidities of PsA, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.

But not every type of exercise is right for people with PsA. Intense, high impact exercise, like running, may make symptoms of PsA worse. On the other hand, low impact exercises, like walking and biking, may suit the needs and capabilities of people with PsA.

Biking has grown in popularity in recent years, as virtual cycling classes and programmable smart bikes have arrived on the scene. Plus, people have ventured outside the classic gym setting due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Here, find out the benefits and risks of cycling for people with PsA. Plus, read tips for biking safely with PsA.

A 2016 study showed that regular exercise could relieve stiffness, restore flexibility, and help people with PsA maintain joint movement.

However, the benefits of biking with PsA go beyond symptom relief in the joints. People with PsA are prone to developing other chronic health issues. These include:

  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • obesity

The presence of inflammation plays a significant role in the development of these other health issues. A lack of exercise can make inflammation worse.

Low impact exercises like biking, walking, and swimming can reduce a person’s risk of developing these conditions later. These exercises have the same heart-healthy benefits as more intense exercise, but they’re less likely to damage the joints and worsen PsA symptoms.

You can also easily modify and adjust the intensity for most of these low impact exercises. This is important for beginners and people with limited joint mobility. On stationary bikes, you can adjust resistance, speed, and intensity more easily than you can when outside, riding on streets or bike paths.

Other ways biking can help people with PsA include:

  • reducing stress
  • improving sleep
  • boosting energy
  • improving bone health
  • improving balance
  • reducing body weight or helping maintain a moderate weight
  • improving day-to-day functioning

For people with PsA, exercise does have potential risks. Exercise can cause discomfort and muscle aches, but these aches should never be painful or debilitating. It’s typical for muscle soreness to last 24 to 48 hours after exercise is complete.

Outdoor biking may not be suitable for every person with PsA. One 2014 study found that people with PsA were more likely to have balance issues due to changes in the inner ear. Cycling outside may be dangerous if you aren’t able to maintain balance.

People who have more severe symptoms of PsA, such as chronic joint pain and swelling in their ankles, heels, and other lower extremities, might not want to push those affected joints to do the extra work of cycling outdoors. With an indoor bike, you can adjust resistance and pressure to match your energy level.

Low impact exercise might not seem dangerous or risky, but anyone new to exercise should consult their doctor before strapping on sneakers or bike shoes. Your doctor can help you find the right pace and exertion level for exercise.

Keep the following tips in mind as you begin a new exercise routine.

Start slowly

You don’t start out running 26 miles if you’re training for a marathon. Likewise, don’t expect yourself to immediately be able to exercise for extended periods of time. You may have to build up to these capabilities.

Start first by exercising 10 minutes a day. Then, add time to your routine until you reach 30 minutes a day, or split the 30 minutes into three 10-minute sessions.

Keep the resistance on your bike low at first, and when you feel like you’re no longer being challenged, add more.

Safety first

Be sure to wear all necessary gear, whether you’re cycling indoors or out. Helmets, pads, and eye protection can reduce injuries if you do have an accident.

If needed, wrap any sensitive or sore joints with support bandages to keep the joints stable while you’re riding.

Stay prepared

Keep your home pharmacy stocked with supplies you might need in the event of an injury or a particularly intense ride.

Ice packs reduce swelling and heat in impacted joints. Hot water bottles or heating pads can help ease sore muscles.

Learn to modify

If you’re feeling joint pain while cycling, try modifying your ride. You can reduce the resistance on the bike, stick to flat roads if you’re outside, or try a different riding style. Recumbent bikes put less stress on some joints compared with upright bikes.

If needed, work with a physical therapist to understand why you may be experiencing pain or mobility issues while exercising. They can help you adjust your movement to reduce pain.

Mix up the routine

Doing the same type of exercise every day might be OK for some people, but the repetition can get boring to others. Consider mixing up your style of cycling, from indoor spinning classes to a casual ride around the neighborhood.

If you don’t feel like getting on the bike one day, consider trying a different low impact exercise, like swimming or yoga.

Know when to stop

Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. You might experience some muscle soreness and achiness, but more severe pain is a sign to stop. Don’t push through pain, as you could damage the joint.

Instead, slow down your ride and get to flat ground or reduce the resistance on the bike. If the pain remains or worsens, stop entirely. Consult a physical therapist or your doctor if the pain doesn’t subside in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Speak with your doctor about the risks of exercising during a PsA flare. Some people may benefit from continuing to go on bike rides. Others may need to rest during a flare to prevent greater inflammation, swelling, and joint pain.

Low impact exercise, like biking, is one of the best ways for people with psoriatic arthritis to reduce symptoms. It’s also among the best ways to reduce potential complications of PsA, like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Ideally, people with PsA should look to exercise a minimum of 3 days per week. It may take some time to build up to that frequency.

For people who love to bike, switching between indoor rides on stationary bikes and outdoor rides around the neighborhood can be a fulfilling way to get some exercise.

Be aware that biking isn’t right for everyone with PsA because of the potential demands on the joints in the lower body. Work with your doctor to figure out the best exercises, fitness schedule, and intensity level for you.