You might think that lifting weights would be bad for arthritis, but some studies show that the opposite is true. By strengthening the muscles around the joints, strength training helps to take some of the load off the arthritic joints and relieves pain.
“The job of connective tissue is to hold things together, so you’re losing stability in the joint, part of what’s causing the pain. When you strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the joint, you can relieve some of the symptoms,” says Haaz.
Recent studies have found that most people with osteoarthritis of the knee who took part in strength and resistance training report a decrease in pain and disability and an increase in mobility.
Strength training also lessens the risk of falls, which can be a major risk for people with knee and hip osteoarthritis. A recent study found that a group of women ages 75 to 80 showed a 47% to 57% reduction in fall-risk scores with simple strength and balance training.
You can also help to prevent falls through the gentle, easy motions of exercises like tai chi and easier yoga classes designed for people with arthritis, which will further improve your balance.
Flexibility and Range of Motion
There are a number of specific exercises that you can do, designed to be easy for people with osteoarthritis, to increase your flexibility and range of motion around your knees and hips.
“We want to do activities without force that bring the hips and knees through the full range of motion in a general, unforced manner, allowing the joint to lubricate itself and help to heal the damage,” says Arslanian. You can do these stretching exercises in a pool, or on a mat near a wall for support.
Before starting an exercise or flexibility training program, check with your doctor. Depending on your ability and comfort level, try these exercises 2 to 3 times per week and gradually work up to doing the exercises daily. Aim to do 2 to 3 sets of 8 repetitions per side.
- Leg swings. Simply hold onto the edge of the pool, or the wall if you’re on land, and gently swing your leg out to the side, alternating sides. “The pool is particularly good for this, because the buoyancy assists you and you get a better range of motion, and you also have resistance from the water that makes your muscles do more work,” says Arslanian.
- Leg extensions. In the same position, extend your leg gently backward, alternating legs. As with all range-of-motion exercises, Arslanian advises getting an expert consult before starting out. “If your hip is very tight, and you try to bring it behind you and it doesn’t move backward very well, you can end up overarching your back and causing back problems by doing it incorrectly. You need to be shown how to do it right.”