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RA and Exercise: Getting Fit at Home and With Your Family

Easy moves to try at home to help fight pain.

Functional Fitness for RA continued...

Cawthorne also does toe exercises to keep her feet limber, because they cramp up often. “I’ll sit on the couch and put a towel down on the floor, and pull my toes in to scrunch the towel in and out and get the synovial [joint] fluid moving around in there,” she says.

Winner has a similar trick for her hands. Each night, as she watches TV, she holds a bowl of uncooked rice on her lap and moves her fingers through the rice as if playing a piano. “This helps keep my hands, fingers, and wrists limber, as well as helping with swelling and pain,” she says.

To strengthen her legs, Winner began with chair exercises. Using a pair of ankle weights she found at a yard sale, she would do leg lifts and circles several times a day. She also did these moves in the tub, with the aid of a rubber bath mat to help prevent slips. “The water made me lighter, as well as helped with the pain,” she says. “I then moved on to lifting myself up repeatedly by placing my arms on wet washrags on the sides of the tub.”

Ellen Shmueli was diagnosed with RA when she was 28. A certified fitness trainer who creates exercise programs for people with RA and other mobility issues, she recommends starting slowly.

“Work at your own pace, and then maybe try to get just a touch beyond what you think you can do,” she says. “When I started exercising, I couldn’t lift my left arm past a 45-degree angle. Once I could, I made sure I could keep doing it.” Some other moves she recommends:

  • For shoulders: Bring your arms up to the front or to the side, and try to get them over your head so you can point to the sky.
  • For arms: Bend your elbow and raise your palm to your shoulder, then lower your hand.
  • For hips: Stand with a wall to your right. Place your hand on the wall for balance and lift your left foot off the floor. Move your leg up and to the front. Lower and then raise it to the side. Lower it and then raise it to the back. Then switch sides.For knees: Sit on a chair. Lift one foot off the ground and begin to straighten your leg until you can feel it in your knee. Hold it a few seconds, then relax.
  • For back: Do “cat stretches.” Get on the ground on all fours. Arch and round your back like an angry cat. Then release your back, letting it sag down. If you can’t get on your hands and knees, stand holding the back of a chair and round your back. Then release, bringing your chest and stomach forward .

For more of a challenge, weights can be added to many of these moves. Ask your doctor whether you should use weights.

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