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Exercises Can Ease Arthritis Pain

With exercise, you strengthen muscles, reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and boost your mood and self-esteem.
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WebMD Feature

If you've got aching joints and arthritis, exercise can help. It may be hard to believe, but experts agree -- moving your joints helps relieve joint pain.

"When you exercise, you strengthen the muscles around the joints, which helps take stress off joints," says Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, WebMD's fitness expert. "It also reduces joint stiffness and builds flexibility and endurance." Exercise can improve your mood and self-esteem. It helps you sleep better, keeps weight under control, and gives you more energy.

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There's also a certain sense of accomplishment that comes from exercise. After all, pushing yourself to exercise - when your body hurts - isn't easy. In addition to arthritis pain relief, exercise can offset other health problems, like osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease.

If you're new at this, just remember - start slow, Weil advises.

Warm Up for Arthritis

Whether you have arthritis or not, a warm-up is a smart place to start. Going into an exercise activity with cold muscles can only cause pain and possibly injury. If you have arthritis, you may want to do something extra. "A lot of people like to take a warm bath or apply heat packs to joints before they do any exercise, to get the synovial [joint] fluid flowing ... it lubricates the joint," Weil tells WebMD.

Movement itself can warm up muscles. If you're getting ready to swim or walk, your warm-up can be a gentle swim or walk - just take it slow, says Weil. Stretching is also good before any type of exercise: Do a few overhead stretches. Bend to reach your toes (don't try to touch them).

Exercises for Arthritis

Weil suggests these warm-up exercises. Do three to five repetitions each:

Side bends: Put hands on hips. Bend from the waist on one side, then come back up. Repeat on the other side.

Shoulder shrugs: Raise one or both shoulders up toward the ears. Lower and repeat.

Arm circles: Extend arms out at both sides. Rotate arms forward, then in reverse.

Torso rotations: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes turned slightly out. Rotate to your left side. Then rotate to your right side.

Strengthening Exercises for Arthritis

Muscle strengthening can come from lifting hand weights, using flexible tubing, even lifting a 1 liter water bottle, says Weil. Strengthening exercises can also be done in a chair while you follow a hand-weight exercise video, he says.

To start a hand-weight program, use weights that you can lift 12 to 15 times with good form. Make sure you feel comfortable using the weights.

Biceps curls: Start with elbows bent at the sides. Keeping your upper arm at your side, bring one dumbbell up to your shoulder. Lower to original position and repeat with opposite arm. Continue to alternate between sides.

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