Many people with arthritis resist regular physical activity or exercise because they fear it will increase pain or further damage their joints. The body is supposed to move; our joints allow for movement. In fact, movement eases joint stiffness, reduces joint pain, strengthens the muscles which surround the joints, and help us maintain a healthy weight. The benefits are real, so keep moving!
It is important for everyone, especially people with arthritis, to protect their joints. The goal of joint protection principles is to decrease pain and to reduce the stress or burden placed on the joints. This can be accomplished in several ways:
With regard to optimal joint health, it is necessary for us to maintain our ideal body weight. Carrying excess body weight adds stress to our joints, especially the weight-bearing joints. For each pound that we lose, there is a four-fold reduction in loading forces on the knee when a step is taken, according to a 2005 study.
The desired benefits of regular physical activity and exercise can be achieved with low-impact exercise—a gentler type of exercise that minimizes the stress put on joints during high intensity workouts. For example, according to the Arthritis Foundation, low-impact exercises that are easier on your joints include aquatic sports, such as swimming; social sports, such as golf; walking, and cycling. 5
The muscles that support our joints must be kept as strong as possible. You can work on maintaining or improving your muscle strength by doing strengthening exercises. Weight training is often used as part of a strengthening regimen. Be careful to pace your workouts and not overdo. With proper strength training, you will increase the stability of your joints, while decreasing pain.6
Arthritis is characteristically associated with limited range of motion. To preserve your current range of motion or improve it, you should routinely put each joint through its full range of motion. Extend, bend, or rotate each of your joints. Range-of-motion exercise improves flexibility, relieves stiffness and pain, and helps us to keep our joints functional. 7
Reducing inflammation is part of keeping arthritis symptoms under control and improving overall joint health. An anti-inflammatory diet involves avoiding foods that increase inflammation while including more foods that decrease inflammation. Many sources suggest that a Mediterranean diet is a good choice for keeping inflammation under control.8
Vitamin D and calcium are two nutrients that are required for healthy bones. Vitamin D is actually needed for calcium absorption. You can obtain vitamin D through sun exposure, diet, or supplementation. Many people need some supplementation. Your doctor can order a blood test to determine if you are deficient in vitamin D. Low calcium is associated with decreased bone density and increased fracture risk. 9
According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Society, “Most people are not aware that smoking has a serious negative effect on your bones and joints.” Specifically, smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis and fracture. Smoking also increases the likelihood of injuries involving bursitis or tendonitis. Smokers also have a higher risk of low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Stop smoking to improve bone health and joint health.