Most doctors recommend exercise for patients with arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Many people begin an exercise program with easy, range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics. Sports are not off-limits, either, but ask your doctor which are best for you.
The doctor may have suggestions about how to get started or may refer you to a physical therapist, preferably one who has experience working with people who have arthritis. The therapist will design an appropriate home exercise program and teach you about pain relief methods, proper body mechanics (placement of the body for a given task, such as lifting a heavy box), joint protection, and conserving energy.
Studies have shown that people with rheumatoid arthritis who see a rheumatologist regularly (several times a year) do better than people who visit erratically or not at all. The first step is finding one!
Your primary care doctor can refer you to a rheumatologist. If you like your doctor and have a good relationship, chances are good you'll get along with the rheumatologist your doctor recommends.
You may be able to see a rheumatologist directly without a referral; check your insurance plan...
Start with supervision from a physical therapist or qualified athletic trainer.
Apply heat to sore joints before starting to exercise. This is optional, but some people with arthritis finds that it helps.
Stretch and warm up with range-of-motion exercises.
Start strengthening exercises slowly with small weights (a 1- or 2-pound weight can make a big difference).
Use cold packs after exercising. This is optional, but some people with arthritis finds that it helps.
Add aerobic exercise.
Consider appropriate recreational exercise (after doing range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise). You will protect your joints from injuries if you start with range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise that gets your body in the best condition possible.
Ease off if joints become painful, inflamed, or red, and work with your doctor to find the cause and eliminate it.
Choose the exercise program you enjoy most and make it a habit.
How Much Exercise Is Too Much?
Most experts agree that if exercise causes pain that lasts for more than one hour, it is too strenuous. People with arthritis should work with their physical therapist or doctor to adjust their exercise program when they notice any of the following signs of strenuous exercise: