It may seem counterintuitive, but the best medicine for chronic joint pain includes staying active. Keeping muscles, tendons and ligaments strong is essential for supporting joints and maintaining flexibility. Inactivity weakens supporting muscles, creating more joint stress, stiffness and pain.
Medical research shows that physical activity is a proven strategy for managing pain associated with osteoarthritis. Before starting an exercise program, consult with your doctor about the cause of your joint discomfort and the appropriate treatment. Your doctor or physical therapist can help create an exercise plan that’s right for you.
The right exercise program may include three types of exercise: range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobics. The benefits of multi-faceted approach can increase fitness levels without aggravating joint pain. In fact, the health benefits can extend beyond joint relief, including:
Maintaining bone strength
Increased energy throughout the day
Better sleep at night
Easier to manage body weight
Enhanced overall quality of life
Start slow and be patient with yourself when starting to exercise, especially after long periods of inactivity. Too much, too fast can lead to sore muscles, joints and setbacks. Better to begin slowly and gradually increase time and effort. Listen to your body and consider the following tips:
1) Go low impact. Minimize joint stress with low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, biking (road or stationary bikes), elliptical trainers or water aerobics. You can get a great workout with less wear-and-tear on the joints.
2) Feel the heat. Before exercising, apply heat – warm towels, hot packs or a shower – for about 20 minutes to relax joints and muscles.
3) Warm up. Start with range-of-motion exercises for five to 10 minutes before moving on to strengthening or aerobic exercises.
4) Patience is a virtue. Start with slow movements and listen to your body. Take a break if you feel pain, particularly if your joint pain is sharp or stronger than usual. Be patient with yourself and don’t be discouraged if progress seems slow.
5) Ice is nice. After exercise, apply ice to your joints for up to 20 minutes as needed. Use ice or a cold pack after activity to reduce any swelling.