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Flexibility Exercises and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Moves to do to help your RA.

Warm Up Your Upper Body in the Shower With Range of Motion Exercises

With range-of-motion exercises, you move your joints to keep them loose so they don’t stiffen up over time. Make these exercises part of your daily routine. Do them a couple of times during the day. Try these moves during your morning shower or afterward. A warm shower can relax your muscles and joints and make it easier to move.

Shoulder Rolls

Do gentle shoulder/arm rotations. Roll your shoulders forward slowly five times. Then roll them backward slowly five times.

Arm Circles

Lift your right arm out to the side, palm up. Do five arm circles forward; then five circles backward. Switch arms and repeat. Next, switch back to your right arm for more arm circles. This time try it with your palm facing down toward the ground. Do it with your left arm, too.

If you have problems with balance, use a shower chair when you stretch. Or do your exercises as soon as you've finished showering, while your joints are still warm.

Help Achy Hands With Hand Exercises

If your hands and wrists are stiff and achy, try these flexibility exercises, says Davis.

First, soak your hands in warm water with Epsom salts for a few minutes. Or do these exercises after washing dishes in warm water.

  • Sit down. Put both hands flat on a table with your fingers spread slightly. Lift both thumbs up off the table. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat five times.
  • Turn your hands over, palms facing up. Try to touch your thumb to the base of your pinky finger. Then relax. Try to tap the base of each finger with your thumb too - ring finger, middle, pointer. Repeat five times.
  • Straighten one arm out in front of you. Make a fist with your hand. Pretend your fist is the tip of a pen and trace alphabet letters in the air. Try not to move your arm. Just bend at your wrist.

If you’re having a big flare, try do range-of-motion exercises at least once a day. You can ask your physical therapist for help doing those exercises when you’re having a bad flare, or ask them to teach a family member how to help you.

Try Yoga and Tai Chi for Better Balance

These flexibility exercises can help with RA because they offer slow, controlled movements. They are good for range of motion as well as balance.

Tell your yoga teacher you have RA so she can adapt certain poses that might be tricky. You can also use foam yoga blocks to help support your body during poses. Listen to your body, and only do what's comfortable for you.

Or try tai chi. Like yoga, it's great exercise, but it's not too hard on your joints, Davis says.
There's another benefit. "From what [people] tell me, the meditation element of yoga and tai chi helps with pain control," says Davis. "Not a lot of people with RA can take pain medication, so they use meditation and it helps."

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