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Flexibility Exercises and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Moves to do to help your RA.
By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature

Looking to make moving easier and cut back on pain? Flexibility exercises are for you, says April Davis, an occupational therapist at NYU Langone Medical Center.

These exercises can ease pain, prevent injury, and improve your balance. They keep your joints healthy and moving.

There are two basic types of flexibility exercises.

  • Stretches keep your muscles elastic, which helps you move your joints more easily.
  • Range-of-motion exercises keep your joints moving their full range and lessen stiffness.

Stretch Your Leg Muscles in Bed

You can do gentle muscle stretches daily, even if your RA is flaring. Try stretching -- maybe 10 minutes three times a day -- when you have the energy. That tends to make it more manageable, says Maura Iversen, PT, DPT. She is a professor and chair of the physical therapy program at Northeastern University in Boston.

Sometimes it can take an hour or more for morning joint stiffness and pain to ease after you wake up. So instead, you can focus on stretching your muscles to get going. Try these stretches before you get out of bed, says Iversen.

1) Hamstring stretch

  • Sit up straight. Extend your right leg straight out in front of you, so it rests on the bed. Bend your left leg and rest your left foot on the bed.
  • Slowly slide your hands down your right leg until your feel a gentle stretch along the back of your right leg. This stretches your hamstring. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Then, swap your leg positions and stretch your left hamstring.

2) Calf stretch

  • Sit in the same position as the hamstring stretch: right leg straight, left leg bent with your foot resting on the bed.
  • Loop a towel or stretchy band around the sole of your right foot. If you can, keeping your right leg straight, slowly pull on the towel or band, pulling your toes toward you. Feel a gentle stretch in your calf (the lower muscle of your leg). If you need to keep a little bend in your knee, that’s OK. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Then switch your leg positions and stretch your left calf.

Ask a physical therapist or your rheumatologist to recommend some other stretches to add to your routine.

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