Got Arthritis? Stretch It Out
Back in the day, osteoarthritis sufferers were told to slow down or stay in bed. Well, those days are completely behind us, says Virtua sports medicine specialist Jennifer Naticchia, MD. Her mantra? “Keep it moving. If you have osteoarthritis, you need to know that movement is good for the joints.”
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a common ailment that comes with aging (or, in younger people, with repetitive injury caused by competitive athletics). It can cause troublesome pain, but avoiding use of the joints causing that pain will only make matters worse.
What’s needed is a balance of some non-impact and some resistance/weight-bearing training. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to exercising those arthritic joints.
- Water aerobics
It’s important to realize that this a great workout for all ages.
In the gym, have a trainer or experienced biker adjust the settings to avoid extra stress on the knees. Raise the seat higher to avoid a deep knee bend and keeping the resistance level low or moderate. And if you’re not up for biking, head for the elliptical instead.
Touch your toes (or as close to your toes as you can comfortably reach) to stretch your hamstrings (back of the thigh). Stand and pull your heel toward your behind will stretch your quadriceps (front of the thigh). Hold each position for ten seconds, then rest and repeat twice more.
- Bear weight on a bent knee
Limit trips up the stairs, avoid stair-stepper exercise equipment and skip the squats.
Rowing at a gentle or moderate pace is helpful for increasing range of motion in our shoulders.
- “Stir the paint”
While standing or sitting, lean forward and move your arm in a circular motion, as if stirring paint in a large can. Do it for ten seconds, then rest and repeat twice more.
- “Crawl the wall”
While standing and facing a wall, raise arms over your head one at a time and mimic the motion of crawling upward. Do it for ten seconds, then rest and repeat twice more.
- Heavy lifting: “My rule is no more than 8 pounds at a time,” says Dr. Naticchia. At home, at the grocery store, and yes, even at the gym. Less weight and more repetitions will facilitate the kind of strength and flexibility needed to stave off arthritis pain.
Back and Neck
- Start your day with a lower back stretch
Before you even get out of bed, hug your knees to your chest and hold them there for ten seconds. Do this three times. Once you’ve gotten out of bed, stand near a wall or chair for support and arch your back. Hold for ten seconds, then rest and repeat twice more.
- Focus on good posture
Whether it’s performing an exercise with proper form, or sitting up straight when working at a desk all day, your back will thank you.
- Protect your neck
Beneficial neck stretches can be as simple as lifting your face to the sky, then pressing your chin to your chest, and then turning from one side to the other. Hold each position for ten seconds, rest, then repeat twice more.
- Ignore your back
“If we took more preventive action, that would make a huge difference. Every American should learn how to take care of their back, arthritic or not," says Dr. Naticchia.
Notice a common theme among the three problem areas mentioned above? It’s stretching!
“Stretching keeps us flexible, and is the only exercise proven to prevent falls,” says Dr. Naticchia. “And yet it’s often the exercise we least want to do. If we’re running short on time, it’s the first thing to get cut from our routine.”
Where to go from here? First, talk to your doctor. “You’re going to want to consult a physician before making a major change in your exercise regimen,” says Dr. Naticchia. He or she will be able to help you craft a plan of action that’s just right for you and your arthritis.
Then, get out and get moving—and stretch, stretch, stretch!
Updated June 6, 2016