Exercising when your joints hurt can be a challenge. But to keep them in good working order, it’s essential to keep moving. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Determining which exercise is best takes a little know-how, and an understanding of your specific condition, current health, needs and goals.
Creating the right exercise plan for you takes patience, and sometimes, a little trial and error. Working with your doctor for exercise recommendations and guidance is always a good place to start. For example, if your current exercise routine is causing pain or you’re not sure which type of exercise to start with, physical therapists are uniquely positioned to address these concerns.
Dr. Michael Studnicka, DPT, OMPT, physical therapist at ProMedica, explains, “We start with history and a physical examination to determine the cause of symptoms and the tissues that are painful. With this knowledge and utilizing evidence-based practice, we initiate a treatment plan to address these impairments.”
“Particular to therapeutic exercise, we can use gravity with or without resistance starting with simple motions and if tolerated expanding to more functional movements,” he adds. “If this causes pain, we can perform gravity eliminated exercises while the condition continues to heal and return back to gravity when appropriate. We just have to work together until we find the right mix of physical activity for you.”
Discover Different Types of Exercise
When mapping a course for feeling better, it helps to know your options. Dr. Studnicka suggests learning about a few different types of exercise, including:
- Low-impact aerobic exercise. Sometimes called “joint-friendly” exercise by doctors, low-impact exercise minimizes the effects on weight-bearing joints, especially your knees, hips, and spine. Aquatic exercise is one example of a low-impact activity that can help you improve muscle strength while minimizing joint stress.
- Flexibility and range of motion exercises. Slow, controlled flexibility and range of motion exercises that don’t increase pain can help you protect your joints, improve your cartilage health and stay comfortable during routine daily activities.
- Strength training exercises. Strengthening or resistance exercises use weights or bands to help you increase function and reduce pain.
It’s not just about the type of exercise you do, but how you exercise that counts. A trained professional can help ensure that your movements are safe and effective.
Use the SMART Method
Ignore the old adage, “No pain, no gain.” If exercises are causing symptoms to worsen, they may be contributing to inflammation and tissue damage. It’s essential to learn how to exercise safely and to modify your activity when arthritic symptoms increase. Don’t push through the pain. If it hurts, you should stop.
“Generally, you want to remain as active as you can, but you need to stop when your joints begin to hurt,” says Dr. Studnicka. “If this warning sign is ignored, the inflammatory process will start. Depending on the severity of pain that results, it could stop you from exercising for a couple days or halt work on a project.”
Physical therapists can teach pain management strategies so when a joint begins to hurt, a few simple movements combined with a short rest break can make it easier to resume the exercise or project.
To enjoy the benefits of increased activity, use the SMART method:
- Start low, go slow.
- Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase. Try to stay active.
- Activities should be joint friendly.
- Recognize safe places and ways to be active.
- Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist.
Exercise should help you improve, and not be an arduous, painful task. If you’re exercising more and enjoying it less — and aren’t seeing improvement — modify your routine.
To get the most out of your workout, you can modify any or all of the five variables of physical exercise:
- Arc of movement: If a movement is painful, change the range and/or angle.
- Duration: Change how long you do an exercise.
- Frequency: Change how often you exercise.
- Intensity: Change how hard you exercise.
- Speed: Change how fast you exercise.
Get Started With a Plan
A medical professional, such as your family doctor, specialist or physical therapist, can help you create an effective exercise plan that supports your joints and overall health. They may also be able to help you address other areas that support joint health.
For instance, if you’re overweight, losing even a little bit of weight may help your joints feel better. “Losing one pound of weight results in four pounds of pressure being removed from the knees. In other words, losing just 10 pounds would relieve 40 pounds of pressure from your knees”, says Dr. Studnicka. “And this translates to less pain and more exercise.” Once you feel that difference, it can motivate you to keep going.
To learn more or to connect to a physical therapist near you, call 877-425-5734 or visit ProMedica’s website.