Exercise can reduce pain and improve function in people
rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In addition, exercise may
help prevent the buildup of scar tissue, which can lead to weakness and
stiffness.1 Exercise for arthritis takes three forms:
stretching, strengthening, and conditioning.
Stretching involves moving joint and muscle groups through and
slightly beyond their normal range of motion and holding them in position for
at least 15 to 30 seconds. See pictures of various
Strengthening involves moving muscles against some resistance.
Studies have shown that moderate- or high-intensity strength training is
well-tolerated in people with rheumatoid arthritis and can help increase or
maintain muscle strength.1 In addition, another study
reports that a program of long-term, high-intensity weight-bearing exercises
improves the functional ability, physical capacity, and emotional status of
people with rheumatoid arthritis.2 There are two types
of strengthening exercises.
- Isometric strengthening is
simply tightening a muscle or holding it against the resistance of gravity or
an immovable object without moving the joint. For example:
- Tighten the front thigh muscle of the
- Push the wrist up against the undersurface of a table.
- Isotonic strengthening means
moving a joint through its range of motion against the resistance of a weight
or gravity. For example:
- Put a
3 lb (1.4 kg) weight on your
ankle and then bend and straighten your knee.
- Lift free
See pictures of
basic muscle-strengthening exercises and
muscle-strengthening with free weights .
Conditioning exercise improves aerobic fitness.
Conditioning, or aerobic, exercises include
walking, biking, swimming, or
water exercise. A target heart rate can guide you to how hard you should
exercise so you can get the most aerobic benefit from your workout.
Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?
Target heart rate is only a guide. Each individual is
different, so pay attention to how you feel while exercising.
Note that even moderate activity, such as walking, can improve your
health and may prevent disability from rheumatoid arthritis.
sure to follow your health professional's advice about your exercise program.
For most people, physical activity does not pose any problem or hazard. For
some people, some forms of physical activity might be unsafe or should be
started only after talking with a health professional. See a list of
exercise cautions to consider before beginning any
exercise or fitness program.
For more information on exercise, see