This blog is the second of a two-part blog series which will discuss strategies you can put in place which will help you manage your osteoarthritis.
This week I'll be covering the importance of movement and doing the correct exercises.
1. Motion is lotion
When it comes to soothing painful joints, sometimes the best treatment may be the last one you want to do — move it. Movement is integral in keeping your joints as mobile and limber as possible; stop moving, and you may experience an increase in pain, stiffness, and a loss of function.
I advise my clients to try to keep moving as they usually would, as much as possible, and continue to exercise even through small bouts of pain. Using a joint with arthritis may seem counterintuitive when the inclination may be to rest and preserve it. However, research has shown that regular moderated loading of the joint is essential to maintain the integrity of the cartilage and joint surfaces. In other words, not moving and sensibly using arthritic joints, will accelerate arthritis and lead to more pain and stiffness as well as a loss of function over time.
How much movement, such as walking, is optimal and how much discomfort is acceptable should be discussed with your physiotherapist. Medical acupuncture, as well as specific manual therapy provided by our physiotherapists, can also help ease pain and prepare the joints for movement and exercises.
2. Try the elliptical machine
When it comes to arthritis, not all exercises are created equal. Walking moderate distances is an excellent form of exercise for arthritic joints. However, suppose the joints do not well tolerate walking. In that case, I recommend lower-impact activities such as the elliptical machine, static cycling or swimming, as they are more gentle on your joints.
3. Develop strength and stability
While cardiovascular exercises will keep your joints lubricated and flexible when it comes to the long-term health of your joints, it's essential to strengthen the muscles that support them. As you strengthen the muscles which support the joint, you provide support and stability to the joint. The more stable the joint, the fewer shear stresses occur across the joint surfaces, which may otherwise cause sensitivity and possibly inflammation.
It essential to work with your physiotherapist to work out which exercises are best for your particular type of arthritis. For instance, if your knees are the problem, then you'll want to focus on strengthening your quads, hamstrings, hips, and low back. It is also essential to exercise for the correct number of repetitions, the proper duration and frequency to achieve the best results. I have treated many well-intentioned clients who have made themselves worse by doing the right exercises, the wrong way.
4. Strength train without weights
Some people aren't up to 'pumping iron' in the gym, and that's fine— there are lots of strengthening exercises you can do just with your body; these are often more effective. Our PhysioPilates exercise system is a gentle way to strengthen the muscles that stabilise arthritic joints while improving range of motion and flexibility. Other options are Yoga and Tai Chi. Just be sure to check with your physiotherapist first so they can make sure they are appropriate for your joints.
5. Do dexterity exercises
Don't forget your small muscles in your exercises. Larger movement from the bigger joints are essential but don't forget the movement principle also applies to the small joints, like fingers and toes. If you have arthritis in your hands, try hand dexterity exercises— like opening and closing your hand and picking up and manipulating small objects, strength balls and hand putty is also an option. Our physiotherapists can help you work out which dexterity exercises are best for you.
6. Vary your exercises
It's easy to get in a rut with exercise, but it's better for your joints if you can be flexible. It's about finding the right type of exercise and modifying activities, so you can keep moving with some manageable discomfort (which usually subsides over time) and without significant pain. That might mean walking one week, swimming the next, and, if you like the gym, lifting some weights in between. Your physiotherapist will recommend specific activities that will work best for you at your current pain level.
7. Don't overdo it
Many people with arthritis do too little activity, which can cause their joints to become stiff and painful, but others may be doing too much activity, which can add stress to the joints. Sometimes both problems can apply for the same person in different situations, the boom-bust approach. The whole point of exercising is to help you, so if your activities are so intense they require hours of recovery afterwards or cause significant painful flare-ups, you need to get some specific advice from an experienced physiotherapist.
8. Get your posture assessed.
Good posture is vital for everyone, but it's essential for people with arthritis because poor biomechanics when you sit, walk, or lift can put extra strain and wear and tear on joints. Our physiotherapists can help to correct your biomechanics. We can also help fix your bad habits and postural problems which may reduce the strain on your joints, thereby helping to slow the progression of arthritis.
In good health,
Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc, DipMedAc