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Joint action

Publish date: 04/03/2014

Joint action

If you want to help ease the symptoms of arthritis, or reduce the risk of it developing, there's a range of beneficial joint exercises that you can do. Dr Alasdair R Wright, GP and musculoskeletal medicine doctor, gives the lowdown.

One of the typical symptoms of arthritis is painful and stiff joints which can be eased by regular exercise. "it's widely accepted that arthritic joints function better and are generally less painful if they are used regularly," explains Dr Wright; "inactivity leads to weak muscles around joints, which causes stiffness and increased pain."

As being overweight can put added strain on joints, exercise can also help lower your body weight, which will take some of the strain off damaged joints.

Not all exercise is equal though - some forms could hinder more than help - so it's important to pick the most appropriate type of exercise.

Arthritis-friendly exercises

"Appropriate exercise is the key to preventing the onset and progression of osteoarthritis," says Dr Wright; "it's important as it mobilises the joints and soft tissues, but also strengthens the muscles which stabilise the joints." It can also help reverse the pain and stiffness caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Ideal exercise for arthritis includes:

  • Pilates: great for strengthening muscles, good posture, suppleness and strength.
  • Cycling: good for improving leg muscle strength and stabilising an arthritic knee.
  • Swimming: the ultimate non-weight-bearing exercise for all joints.
  • Walking: gentle on the joints and good for reducing stiffness.

Take care when you first start exercising. Break exercise down into segments, such as three 10-minute blocks in the day, rather than one single 30-minute session, and gradually build up the duration and intensity.

"At first your joints may feel heavy and a little stiff the day after exercise but, in time, this will settle and your joints will feel stronger and more comfortable. If you feel sudden pain or marked discomfort after exercise, you need to reduce the intensity or change the exercise," advises Dr Wright.

Arthritic symptoms may vary during the day. Rheumatoid arthritis may be bad in the mornings and osteoarthritis may be worse at night, so make a note of when your symptoms are reduced and plan exercise to coincide with this.

Exercises to avoid

There are some exercises that aren't so appropriate for sufferers of arthritis and could even increase the risk of developing it.

The main exercises to avoid are higher impact exercises, such as road running or contact sports. They're less beneficial as they carry a higher risk of injury to the joints, which could trigger arthritis.

Home and office exercise ideas

Arthritis can affect working life, especially office work, where you're sitting in the same position at a desk or computer doing repetitive tasks. However, you can help relive symptoms, improve mobility and reduce the risk of arthritis by doing simple joint exercises.

Sitting exercises for home or work

  • Ankles: Roll both ankles to the right five times, then to the left five times.
  • Knees: Fully extend and straighten one leg at a time, holding the position for 10 seconds.
  • Neck: Keep your lower back straight and your shoulders back. Slowly look over each shoulder, then look straight ahead, tucking your chin in. Hold each position for 10 seconds, repeating each movement five times.
  • Wrists: Clasp both hands firmly together and roll your wrists around to the right fives times, then to the left five times.
  • Hands: Clench both fists firmly closed for 10 seconds. Open them, holding the fingers fully straight for a further 10 seconds. Repeat five times.

Standing exercises

  • Back: Stand up straight facing a wall. Place the palms of your hands against the wall and, with one straight leg at a time, bring your heel back about one foot behind you. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat five times with each leg.
  • Shoulders: Hold your arms by your sides and slowly roll your shoulders up and back five times, then up and forwards five times.

Other tips for aiding arthritis at work

You can also help ease arthritis symptoms at work by:

  • Altering your position regularly: Aim for five minutes standing up or moving around every 30 minutes. This will help avoid repetitive strain on your neck, hands and wrists.
  • Improving your posture by sitting up straight: This will protect your back and the joints of your legs and feet.
  • Modifying your computer screen and keyboard. For best posture, your eyes should be in line with the top of the screen. A gel wrist mat can help reduce wrist strain.
  • Bending from the knees without flexing the lower spine when you pick things up: This will protect your back.

Useful links

Arthritis Care

Arthritis Research

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Private medical insurance

Did you know we have a Therapies Add-on?

With this add-on you'll get access to further entitlements such as:

  • Cover for physiotherapy, osteopathy & chiropractic treatment
  • Up to £1000 combined overall limit per year
  • Up to a max of 10 sessions per year for GP referred treatment

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