|Posted on 27 September, 2020 at 5:50|
Is exercise recommended for RA?
Exercise is an important part of managing RA.
People with RA who exercise have:
• higher levels of fitness
• better muscle strength and size
• greater ability to do daily tasks
• improved mood and emotional well-being.
Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy body
weight and improve the health of your heart and blood
vessels. Some types of exercise may also help improve
the strength of your bones and reduce your risk of
osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).
Many people with RA are anxious about exercising.
This may be due to fear of causing damage to the joints
or the presence of pain. However research shows that
people with RA can participate in regular, appropriate
exercise without causing joint damage or worsening of
symptoms. Everyone’s fitness levels and limitations will
be different so start with activities that suit you. While
some people with arthritis will find a five kilometre
walk easy, others may find walking around the block
difficult enough to start with. If you have damage
to the larger joints in your legs, such as your hips or
knees, it is generally recommended to avoid activities
that put excessive force on those joints (for example,
running and jumping). Talk to your rheumatologist
(arthritis specialist) to find out if there are activities that
you should avoid. You may also find it helpful to ask a
physiotherapist for advice on exercising safely.
What types of exercise could I try?
There are many activities that are safe and effective
for people with RA. Any activity that works your
muscles a bit harder or causes you to ‘puff’ a little,
without increasing your pain or other symptoms, will
be beneficial. Choose activities that you enjoy and are
convenient. Activities that are particularly useful include:
• Water exercise: Many people with RA prefer
exercising in water. The buoyancy of the water takes
pressure off painful joints and you may find you
can move more freely than you can on land. Warm
water can also be soothing for sore muscles and
stiff joints.If you are new to exercise or your
RA is limiting your ability to exercise, you may find it
useful to have one-on-one hydrotherapy sessions with
• Strength training: Muscle weakness is very common
in RA. A combination of pain, fatigue (tiredness) and
the disease itself often leads to weakening and wasting
of the muscles. This can make it even more tiring to
do your normal daily activities. Research has shown
that muscle weakness in RA can be prevented and
even reversed by strength training. Strength training
involves working your muscles a little harder than you
do in normal life. You do this by working with hand
weights, leg weights, gym machines, resistance bands
or even just your own body weight (eg. doing pushups).
The key to successful strength training is to:
- start with supervision from a qualified health or
exercise professional who understands RA
- learn the right way to do the exercises and how
much resistance to add to prevent injury
- keep challenging your muscles by doing different
exercises and using more resistance.
Strength training may also improve the strength of your
bones and help prevent a condition called osteoporosis.
What about during a ‘flare’?
During a ‘flare’ it is usually recommended to rest the
affected joint(s). You should still gently move the
affected joint(s) as far as is comfortable several times
a day as this may help prevent stiffness. However you
should not apply any force or resistance to the affected
area. For example, if your wrist is affected, do not
use any weights or resistance bands with that arm. If
you are feeling otherwise well, you can still do some
gentle exercise for the rest of your body. Talk to your
rheumatologist or physiotherapist for more information
• Check with your doctor or rheumatologist
before starting an exercise program.
• If possible, see a physiotherapist or exercise
physiologist for advice about specific exercises.
They can suggest safe exercises tailored to your
condition and make sure you are doing your
exercises correctly so you don’t cause an injury.
• Always build up slowly. When you first start, do less
than you think you will be able to manage. If you
cope well, do a little bit more next time and keep
building up gradually.
• Always start your exercise by doing some gentle
movements to prepare your muscles and joints for the
activity. This will help prevent pain and injury. You
may find it useful to use heat packs or warm showers
before activity to loosen up stiff joints and muscles.
• Never place your joints under excessive pressure or in
unsafe positions that can increase your risk of injury.
Wherever possible, learn exercises from a qualified
health professional and exercise under supervision.