Spring has sprung, and everyone likes to get outside for a little exercise once the weather turns warm.
For rheumatoid arthritis patients, however, the painful, swollen, and burning joints caused by RA often make exercising seem impossible. But most RA patients know that exercise can actually reduce the pain and stiffness in joints.
To get started, you first might want to discuss with your doctor the types of exercise that are appropriate for your symptoms and medication and will work with your treatment plan, especially if you haven’t been exercising regularly. Ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist that can help identity targeted exercises that work in harmony with your medication and treatment. Just as you need a doctor to prescribe the right medications, you need a physical therapist to prescribe the right exercises.
Whatever exercises you choose, make sure you start slowly and increase the intensity gradually. Just five minutes a day, three days a week, is a good way to start — then you can slowly build up from there.
You also need to watch out for pain. If you experience too much pain during or after a workout, treat it as a sign that you should stop or slow down.
Part of getting back into an exercise routine involves experimenting with different types of exercises. You should try and find what is most comfortable and works for you. Here are some exercises popular among those who have RA:
This can be as simple as gently stretching before you get out of bed each morning. Follow it with a hot shower that relaxes your muscles and lets you move more easily. Some doctors and physical therapists suggest stretching every day for at least ten minutes, holding each stretch for 10-15 seconds.
Stretching the ligaments and muscles around the joints helps prevent the joints from stiffening. Your stretching routine can include moves as simple as raising your arms above your head using smooth, controlled movements. Just a few repetitions, done regularly, can be enough to make a noticeable improvement in range of motion and decreased stiffness.
Tai chi, Pilates, and Yoga
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that was originally developed for self-defense and is currently practiced as a slow, meditative exercise that reduces pain and improves mood. Like stretching, it requires a series of slow, focused movements as well as a disciplined breathing technique. Pilates and yoga are very similar and are excellent for RA patients because they can build strength and increase flexibility without putting stress on joints.
Since muscle strength helps to protect your joints, many doctors recommend strengthening exercises three times a week, using resistance bands, free weights, or machines. For some, resistance bands are easiest because they are light, packable, and let you develop a routine you can do at home or on a work break.
Whatever exercises you decide on, make sure you have your doctor or physical therapist teach you how to do the exercises properly. Although spring beckons and exercise can help you treat RA, you need to be careful and not overdo it.