If you’ve been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PsA), you might not feel like exercising. The stiffness and fatigue of PsA along with pain and swelling might leave you choosing a more restful activity. But exercise can actually make it easier to manage your condition.
Exercises that are tailored to PsA can help alleviate symptoms. You should strive for a balance of cardiovascular fitness, range of motion exercise, stretching, and strength training. Strength training in particular can help build muscle to support and protect affected joints.
Each case of PsA is different. Before starting an exercise routine, have a physiotherapist assess your condition and make exercise recommendations best suited to your situation. Ask if weighted exercises are a strength-training option for you, and which types of movements can help rather than hinder your PsA management.
Once you’ve been cleared by a healthcare provider to try weight training, find a trainer to teach you proper form, execution, and breathing techniques to help you get the most out of your routine.
Weighted exercises use free weights, weight machines, or bodyweight to increase the force on your muscles to strengthen them.
These come in several styles, such as fixed and adjustable dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells. There are also wearable wrist and ankle weights if PsA interferes with your grip.
Use weights for lifting, or for increasing your bodyweight for moves such as lunges.
Start with a light weight and work your way up over time as you build strength. If you find a movement difficult, like lateral raises, practice them without weights until your strength has improved.
Gym weight rooms have a wide selection of free weights. Once you’ve tried a few options, consider buying some of your own to enjoy the freedom of exercising at home.
Examples of free weight arm exercises include:
- bicep curls
- shoulder press
- bent over row
- upright row
While they’re not as versatile as free weights, weight machines can be easier and safer when used correctly if you’re new to strength training. Before you try a machine for the first time, ask a trainer to show you how to use it properly.
Weight machine exercises include:
- shoulder press
- chest press
- leg press
- hamstring curls
This type of activity uses the weight of your body as resistance against gravity to help strengthen your muscles. They can be done in your home at your convenience. Use a yoga mat to cushion any area of your body that’s in contact with the floor. Work with a trainer to learn how to use proper form to prevent injuries.
As you build strength over time, you can increase the intensity of bodyweight exercises by holding free weights while you work out. If finger pain is one of your PsA symptoms, try a weighted vest or wrist and ankle weights instead of free weights.
Bodyweight exercises to try include:
- glute bridge
- leg lifts
Setting up a weight training routine
Ask a trainer to show you the correct way to perform any type of weighted exercise, both for safety and to help you achieve maximum health benefits. Proper body position is important to support your spine and joints and to protect them from injury. Find a trainer with knowledge about PsA who can help you follow the recommendations from your physiotherapist.
From there, be sure to set up your workout plan with three main factors in mind:
Intensity: If you have no prior weight training experience, you should begin with a very light intensity. This allows time for your muscles and joints to adjust to your new activity. Focus on learning proper form and injury prevention techniques. Once your muscle strength has increased, you can gradually increase the intensity of your strength training workout.
Frequency: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends performing strength training exercises 2 to 3 times each week. Allow rest days in between workouts.
Repetitions and sets: The weights you use should be comfortable to lift for 8 to 12 repetitions (reps) in a row with good form. If you can’t do at least 8 reps, the weights you’re using are too heavy. If you’re able to continue lifting well beyond 12 reps, you can increase the weight.
One set is 8 to 12 reps. Aim for 2 to 3 sets per workout for each muscle group that you’re focusing on.
Remember to warm up before you exercise. Start with slow and easy range of motion movements. During your workout, pay attention to how you feel and slow down or stop if necessary. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself.
Weight lifting is typically a safe PsA activity, but speak with your doctor first. Each case is different, so it’s important to get clearance from your healthcare team before you try weightlifting.
When done correctly, even moderate weight training can help arthritis management. Benefits include:
- support for joints
- increased strength and flexibility
- increased bone strength
- reduced stiffness and pain
- healthy weight maintenance
- improved balance
Strong muscles can also absorb more of the shock from daily movements that is otherwise felt by your joints.
To keep weight lifting safe for PsA, it’s important to follow proper precautions. Do not try movements or exercises that your doctor has advised against.
Other potentially harmful practices include:
- improper form or execution
- insufficient warmup
- weights that are too heavy
- exercise that is too hard during a flare
- not enough rest between workouts
Any of these things can put too much stress on your joints, which can in turn aggravate PsA symptoms.
Exercise can help manage the symptoms of PsA by strengthening muscles that support joints. See a physiotherapist first for an assessment of your condition and exercise recommendations.
Types of weight training include free weights, exercise machines, and bodyweight exercise. Ask a trainer to show you the correct way to perform each exercise so you can achieve the most benefit and reduce your chance of injury.
Start with light intensity and focus on learning proper form. Gradually increase the intensity over time. Schedule rest days in between workout days.
Pay attention to how you feel while you practice weight training. Stop and rest if you experience discomfort or pain. During a PsA flare, reduce the intensity of your exercise routine, or take a break entirely.