Arthritis is often thought of as a condition that can limit a person’s activities. When arthritis patients have pain, swelling, and stiffness, they may need rest and treatment. But otherwise, some form of exercise can help arthritis patients. Exercises can increase strength, improve joint flexibility, and reduce pain and fatigue.1 Let us discuss the benefits of exercises and strength training tips for arthritis patients.
While all types of exercises have some benefits, strength training is considered one of the most important, especially for arthritis patients. Knowing the right way to do strength training exercises and their benefits can make your exercise regime effective.
Benefits of Strength Training for Arthritis Patients
The moment we hear the word exercise, we imagine heavy-duty exercises in the gym or training for the next marathon. But arthritis patients need not worry about all that. Exercises for arthritis patients mean simple exercises of mild to moderate intensity based on the health condition. Arthritis causes joint symptoms and the person tends to become immobile or limit activity for the fear of pain or worsening of symptoms. But moderate exercises and particularly strength training can help in reducing arthritis symptoms.
Studies have shown that several exercise training options including strength training can help reduce inflammation, delay cartilage and bone degeneration, and even change muscle and tendon structure in knee osteoarthritis.2 A study showed that moderate to high-intensity strength training was effective and well-tolerated to increase or maintain muscle strength in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.3
Some of the benefits of exercises and strength training for arthritis patients include:
- Helps strengthen the muscles and tissues around the joints
- Helps maintain bone strength
- Helps improve balance
- Reduces fatigue, pain and helps improve sleep
- Helps manage weight
Strength Training Tips For Arthritis Patients
Knowing the right way to perform strength training, knowing your limits and when to stop is important. One of the most important tips on strength training for arthritis patients is to seek medical advice before performing strength training for arthritis and do your exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist.
If your therapist has recommended other forms of exercises like aerobic exercises, range of motion exercises, and strength training, you can plan your regime accordingly.
Aerobics – Aerobic exercises help improve general health, cardiovascular performance, weight management, and stamina. Walking, swimming, and aqua aerobics are considered safe for arthritis patients. These are advised for 20 to 30 minutes for at least five days a week, however, they can be altered based on the severity of your symptoms.
Warm-up/Range Of Motion – Ideally, you should begin with your warm-up and range of motion exercises. This improves flexibility, helps relieve stiffness, and prepares the joints for better movement. These can be done daily and are always done before your begin any other moderate-intensity exercises.
Strength Training – Strength training exercises are different from the above two forms of exercises. This helps strengthen your muscles and tissues to offer better support to your joints. There are various ways in which it is done and weight training is a common method. Once the joints are prepared, strength training can be more effective. These are usually advised twice or thrice a week, depending on the condition.
Other important strength training tips for arthritis patients include:
- Discuss your routine with your physical therapist and plan an appropriate mix of aerobic activities, flexibility exercises, and weight training to make your strength training regimen the most effective one.
- Plan your strength training workout when your joints are least likely to be inflamed. Avoid times of the day when joints are stiff and painful.4
- Explore ways and plan a schedule for strength training and resistance exercises, for example: using weights, dumbbells, bands, etc. Discuss whether you will perform floor workouts or aqua training with weights.
- Include a variety of strength training exercises in your schedule. As these are done thrice a week you can plan them on alternate days in a week, so they are spaced-out well. Rest between two workouts helps the tissue heal, exerts less pressure on joints, and makes training more effective.
- Avoid exercising the same muscle groups on two consecutive days. So, if you don’t get a gap between two workouts, for example, on weekends, you can choose to train your upper body on one day and lower body on the next day.
- Usually, three days a week are advisable for proper strengthening and can help relieve your symptoms of arthritis, while two days a week are good for a maintenance plan. Each session can be of 20 to 30 minutes with short rest periods based on your health.
- Begin with a few minutes of walk, gently warm up, range of motion exercises for a few minutes before doing core strength training.
- Start slowly, lift weight smoothly and continue the repetitions or counts, as decided. Maintain proper posture and hold the weights as advised. Avoid being fast, do not overdo it.
- Breathe well while doing strength training, do not hold your breath.
- Assess your condition and progress gradually. As you find those counts comfortable you can increase them gradually after some time. Say, for the first week you do five counts, once you are fine with that, next week you can do seven counts, and if not you can continue the same way for another week.
It is common for arthritis patients to feel that exercise may worsen their pain however, the lack of exercise can cause more harm. Moreover, strength training is considered more of a therapy that helps to keep your muscles and supporting tissue strong. Strengthened tissues support the joint better, reducing pain, inflammation, and swelling. The strength training tips for arthritis patients will give an understanding and help you plan an effective schedule with your therapist.
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