Modest exercise, most experts agree, can be one of the best ways people with lupus can combat chronic (long-term) pain. But how do you exercise when you hurt too much to get out of your chair? "Ideally, one of best exercises for anybody with joint-related problems is swimming. But unless you're a penguin, it's hard to do that all the time," Phillips says. If possible, he advises people with lupus to check out aquatics programs run by the Arthritis Foundation that are guided by experts. If you can't get there, though, he says, "There are a lot of things you can do at home. Just walk around your house. If you're really experiencing a lot of joint pain, do exercises for the joints that aren't bothering you. You can lift your arms up and down, twist your trunk, or do breathing exercises -- things that are low impact. The more you do, the more you start empowering yourself."
Balch agrees, but cautions lupus patients against doing too much exercise, noting that some people plunge ahead, determined to do as much as the guy next to them at the gym -- and give up due to exhaustion. "I have my patients shoot for walking 15 to 30 minutes, three times a week, at a pace of one to two miles per hour, or doing water aerobics for the same time. I think those are the two best exercises for people with lupus."
Other techniques for blocking pain and improving mobility, say Balch and Phillips, include biofeedback, hypnosis, imagery, meditation, tai chi, and yoga. "Do what works for you, with the least side effects," says Balch. That may mean trying out a few options: Don't give up just because the tai chi that worked for your friend did nothing for you.
Managing the Mental Factor
But all of these strategies can only go so far, Phillips cautions. "Any symptoms that you can't eradicate through various methods must be dealt with by learning to cope with things you cannot change," he says. "This can be even more critical, because one of the most frustrating things about living with lupus is having restrictions imposed on you by the disease that you can't change."