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Osteoarthritis and Exercise: How Do I Start?

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People with arthritis should discuss exercise options with their doctors and other health care providers. Most doctors recommend exercise for their patients. Many people with arthritis begin with easy, range-of-motion exercises, low-impact aerobics, and muscle building. People with arthritis can participate in a variety of, but not all, sports and exercise programs. The doctor will know which, if any, sports are off-limits.

The doctor may have suggestions about how to get started or may refer the patient to a physical therapist. It is best to find a physical therapist who has experience working with people who have arthritis. The therapist will design an appropriate home exercise program and teach clients about pain-relief methods, proper body mechanics (placement of the body for a given task, such as lifting a heavy box), joint protection, and conserving energy.

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Step Up to Exercise: How To Get Started!

  • Discuss exercise plans with your doctor.
  • Start with supervision from a physical therapist or qualified athletic trainer.
  • Apply heat to sore joints (optional; many people with arthritis start their exercise program this way).
  • Stretch and warm up with range-of-motion exercises.
  • Start strengthening exercises slowly with small weights (a 1- or 2-pound weight can make a big difference).
  • Progress slowly.
  • Use cold packs after exercising (optional; many people with arthritis complete their exercise routine this way).
  • Add aerobic exercise.
  • Consider appropriate recreational exercise (after doing range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise). Fewer injuries to joints affected by arthritis occur during recreational exercise if it is preceded by range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise that gets your body in the best condition possible.
  • Ease off if joints become painful, inflamed, or red, and work with your doctor to find the cause and eliminate it.
  • Choose the exercise program you enjoy most and make it a habit.

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

Most experts agree that if exercise causes pain that lasts for more than one hour, it is too strenuous. People with arthritis should work with their physical therapist or doctor to adjust their exercise program when they notice any of the following signs of strenuous exercise:

  • Unusual or persistent fatigue
  • Increased weakness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Increased joint swelling
  • Continuing pain (pain that lasts more than one hour after exercising)

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on December 29, 2013
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