The Link Between Arthritis and Exercise

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Arthritis and Exercise – The Hidden Link

Many people assume that if they have arthritis they should not exercise. This could not be further from the truth. Exercise is an ideal tool for managing many of the symptoms of arthritis in may cases. It may even help improve joint flexibility and muscle endurance.

Arthritis Statistics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 43 million people currently suffer from arthritis across the country. Arthritis is also the number two cause of work related disability claims in the United States. Roughly 20 percent of the popular according to the CDC, will develop arthritis by the year 2020. What can you do to protect yourself?

The Link Between Arthritis and Exercise

Exercise is directly linked to arthritis relief. According to the Surgeon General, regular exercise can help decrease the fatigue associated with arthritis, help improve muscle strength and improve flexibility and endurance. Exercise for arthritis sufferers may be therapeutic such as physical therapy or occupational exercise, or recreational. Examples of helpful recreational exercise for arthritis patients include walking, biking, group aerobic exercise and swimming.

Perhaps a bigger benefit of exercise is that it helps improve the mental health and well-being of patients suffering from arthritis. Three primary methods of exercise are recommended for patients with arthritis. These include:
  • Resistance or strength training exercises to help improve muscle strength and stability.
  • Range of motion exercises to help improve joint motion and flexibility.
  • Endurance activities to improve cardiovascular and lung function.
Cardiovascular exercise may also help improve stamina. It is important if you have arthritis that you consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. There are also many warning signs you should be aware of when exercising. If you have any unusual symptoms including decreased range of motion, join swelling, worsening or increased pain or increased fatigue, you should stop exercising immediately and consult your doctor.

Exercise can only help arthritis patients if it is performed as part of a typical daily routine. Remember, routine exercise can help reduce joint pain, reduce muscle stiffness, create strong supporting muscles and improve flexibility. Many patients with arthritis also report improved energy and better sleep patterns when regularly exercising.

Tips For Starting A Successful Exercise Program

As with any exercise program if you have arthritis it is important you start out slowly. Most doctors recommend beginning with flexibility exercises that help improve your range of motion. Stretching exercises can improve your ability to perform everyday activities. Once you have developed a comfortable routine of stretching exercise, you can move on to cardiovascular exercise and weight bearing routines. These may include walking, jogging, biking and swimming. Swimming is an exceptional exercise for arthritis patients because it helps reduce the stress on your body’s joints and muscles. Swimming is also an excellent choice for patients who feel they are in too much pain to perform traditional exercises.

If you have arthritis you should also consider setting goals for your physical activity. These may include:
  • Restoring or improving your range of motion.
  • Improving the flexibility of your joints.
  • Preserving your current state of health or returning to a better state of health.
  • Increasing your endurance and muscle strength.
  • Improving your emotional wellness and decreasing your risk for depression.
  • Reducing the likelihood of diseases related to inactivity or a sedentary existence.
Adapting Exercise To Meet The Needs of Arthritic Patients Physical therapists and occupational therapists often adapt routine exercises to meet the special needs of patients with arthritis. Some adaptations your doctor or health care provider might develop include:
  • A low level intensity and low level of complexity, to reduce the risk for motion related injuries or increased inflammation. Your doctor will work with you to make sure you do not increase the damage to your joints and ligaments.
  • Reduction of or elimination of repetitive movements to affected ligaments and joints. Your doctor or therapist can work with you to develop a range of activities that limit repetitive motion to the joints affected by arthritis in the body. Your therapist may also recommend you wear orthotics to reduce the shock absorbed by your joints while exercising.
  • Restricted range of motion exercises that accommodate any stiffness or swelling you may be experiencing at the time you start an exercise program.


While it is true that may arthritis patients are more at risk for injury, there are several precautions you can take to ensure you get the most out of a safe and effective exercise program. Don’t forget it is important you consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program if you have arthritis. Your doctor may recommend you work directly with a physical or occupational therapist to develop an exercise program best suited to meet your individual needs. Your therapist may also advise you about techniques that will prevent you from placing too much stress on your joints.

Remember, just because you have arthritis doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Be sure to consult with your doctor or therapist about your condition. Together you can come up with a plan of action for combating arthritis with exercise.