Living with Arthritis: 7 tips to get the most out of physical activity

Did you know that you “feed” your joints when you’re active?

When you have arthritis, active living is a part of your treatment program where you can assert control. It’s a chance to confront arthritis directly, discover new activities or reclaim some old ones that arthritis has made difficult.

Benefits of regular activity and exercise include decreased pain, increased muscle strength and endurance, healthy joints, and a better sleep.

The Arthritis Society and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) teamed up to give you seven tips to get the most out of physical activity, as you re-introduce exercise into your routine.

1. Apply heat or cold treatments 

Many people with arthritis manage pain from activities by applying heat or cold. If your joints are swollen or hot, you should avoid heat. If they’re not, then you can use heat as a way to ease stiffness before you exercise. Try something simple like taking a warm shower, warming a towel in the microwave or using a hot water bottle. If you use a moist hot pack, make sure that it’s not too hot –you don’t want to overheat or burn your skin.

Cold can also help with arthritis pain, especially after you exercise. Try placing a bag of frozen peas over your joint for 10 minutes. People with arthritis may often find it is easier to apply cold than heat because, cold creates a numbing sensation, which temporarily helps with pain. Ice can also counteract any mild swelling from your exercise.

2. Warm up and cool down

Before doing flexibility, strength or endurance exercises, you should warm up for 5-15 minutes to prep your body. Start with an easy walk or a slower version of your exercise, and then follow it up with gentle stretches. Make sure to move towards the end of your joint’s full range of motion and hold for at least five seconds.

The best time to properly stretch your muscles is when you cool down.  Repeat your warm up exercises and allow your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.

3. Drink fluids

Avoid dehydration by drinking enough fluids before and after exercising. When you exercise, you’ll need extra fluids on top of the 64 ounces that expert recommend. Bring a bottle with you and take sips throughout.

4. Pace yourself

Take it easy at the beginning. It’s natural to feel your heart beat a little faster, your breathing speed up and your body get warmer. Make sure you can speak normally while you’re being active. It’s important that you avoid doing too much too soon, especially when exercising with arthritis, as it might interfere with your progress. Be alert for warning signs. If you feel any sharp pain or more discomfort than usual, then slow down and take a break; pain often means something is wrong.

5. Keep track of your progress

Make an action plan to keep motivated. State your goals, exercises and how long you’ll stick with your plan. You can monitor your progress by keeping a journal. After every time you exercise, write what you did and how you felt. Try recording your progress for four weeks, and then check back on earlier results to see how far you’ve come. The Arthritis Society’s Lifestyle Makeover Challenge is a great place to track your exercise –it’s free!

6. Reward yourself

Once you have reached some of your exercise goals, it’s important to reward yourself. It’ll be easier to overcome barriers and stay motivated. Try something like going for a massage; it’s relaxing and you’ll help your arthritis!

7. Keep it fun!

Being physically active is a vital part of maintaining your health, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Remember, when you’re looking for activities, gravitate towards those that are most appropriate and fun! Invite a friend or join a fitness group. The social interaction and the benefits of being active will make you feel better inside and out! 

Find a physiotherapist

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.

Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who combine their in-depth knowledge of the body and how it works with specialized hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat symptoms of illness, injury or disability.

More than 20,000 registered physiotherapists work in Canada, in private clinics, general and rehabilitation hospitals, community health centres, residential care and assisted-living facilities, home visit agencies, workplaces, and schools.

The CPA presents its educational references as a public service and for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CPA membership.