Most experts agree that if you have chronic joint pain one thing you can do to reduce your pain is move your body on a regular basis. Most people know that exercise is good for them, but they may not know it can reduce their pain. Yet, it’s true- exercise and movement increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue.
According to MayoClinic, exercise can:
Strengthen the muscles around your joints
Help you maintain bone strength
Give you more energy to get through the day
Make it easier to get a good night’s sleep
Help you control your weight
Enhance your quality of life
Improve your balance
Many of my clients are worried that too much movement will aggravate their joints and make them hurt more. Yet, that’s not the case and actually, lack of exercise can make your joints even more painful and stiff. This is because your bones are supported best by the strong muscles and tissue that surround them. If you don’t exercise regularly, your muscles become weak and your joints become stressed.
Science supports this and there have been numerous studies about chronic pain and exercise. Studies show that physical activity significantly improves pain and related symptoms. In addition, exercise has general benefits associated with improved overall physical and mental health, and physical functioning.
Now, all of this doesn’t mean that you have to run a marathon, take up crossfit, or work out for hours a day. Any type of movement and exercise is helpful for chronic joint pain, but there are a few types of exercise that are most beneficial.
This type of training is usually done daily and helps relieve stiffness and increase your range of motion. It is ideal for beginners as it is low impact and often involves simple movements like moving your arms over your head or rolling your shoulders back and forth.
This type of training often involves weight lifting and helps you to build strong muscles to support and protect your joints. Remember to avoid training the same muscle groups two days in a row and have rest days between workouts especially if your joints are painful or swollen. Start with strength training 2 days a week for maintenance and increase up to 4 days a week as you are able.
This type of training helps with your overall fitness and cardiovascular health. It will help you lose weight to reduce the stress on your joints and give you more energy and stamina. Try low-impact aerobic exercises like walking, biking, swimming, or using the elliptical machine. The CDC suggests people with RA, or chronic joint pain, do low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, or biking, three to five times a week, eventually working up to sessions of 30 to 60 minutes each.
Studies have shown that aerobic exercise supports positive cardiovascular health and helps build muscle which improves strength and physical functioning without exacerbating joint pain.
Body Awareness Training
This type of training includes exercises like yoga and Tai Chi and can help you improve balance, prevent falls, improve posture and coordination, and promote relaxation. Start with beginner movements and modify positions if they cause pain or are uncomfortable. Yin yoga is a good option if your goal is to reduce chronic arthritis pain by reducing stress, muscle tension, and anxiety in the body.
Remember that any type of movement can help your chronic joint pain. Even daily activities, such as mowing the lawn and walking the dog count. Start slowly and ease your joints into exercise if you haven’t been active in a long time. If you push yourself too hard, you can overwork your muscles and worsen your joint pain. So, focus on low-impact activities and use heat prior to workouts to warm up your joints and muscles. On rest days you can ice your joints and muscles to recover and heal from the workout the day before. It is also always a good idea to work with your doctor or physical therapist to determine the right exercises for you and have regular appointments to discuss how your movement is supporting your body.