Exercises for arthritis
Starting to exercise while suffering from arthritis is likely to initially cause pain before benefits are seen. This convinces some people that exercise may be harming their joints, but research shows that in reality, it offers a number of major benefits including reduction of pain, inflammation and stiffness, alongside a lowered risk of disease progression. Exercise is considered the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis.
What exercises are ideal for osteoarthritis?
Specific exercises for different parts of the body are highlighted in the videos below, but the following types of general exercise play a role in maintaining and improving the overall ability to move and function.
Range of motion or flexibility exercises: Range of motion refers to the ability to move your joints through the full motion they are designed to achieve. These exercises include gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full span. Doing these exercises regularly can help maintain and improve flexibility in the joints. Yoga and Pilates are good examples of these.
Aerobic/endurance exercise: These exercises strengthen the heart and help the lungs work more efficiently. This conditioning reduces fatigue and builds stamina, while aerobic exercise also helps control weight by increasing the number of calories the body uses. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, bicycling and swimming.
Strengthening exercises: These exercises help maintain and improve muscle strength. Strong muscles can support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis.
Aquatic (water) exercises: These are particularly helpful for people just beginning to exercise, as well as those who are overweight. The water helps relieve the pressure of your body’s weight on the affected joints (hips and knees in particular) while providing resistance for your muscles to get stronger. Regular aquatic exercise can particularly help relieve pain and improve daily function in people with hip and knee OA. Classes are available in many local sports centres.
How much exercise is good for osteoarthritis?
In general, and if possible, range-of-motion exercises should be done every day. The weekly recommendation for aerobic exercise is either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (a combination of the two is equally effective). This translates to taking a 30-minute brisk walk or bike ride five times a week, or alternatively, jogging, swimming, or cycling at a higher intensity for 25 minutes three times per week.
Head & Neck
Arms and Elbows
Hips, knees, legs
Hamstrings and thighs
Toes and ankles