If you struggle with joint pain, the last thing you may want to think about is exercise — but you absolutely should.
In fact, exercise has been called the secret to joint pain relief,[i] because it breaks the tendency to favor your joints and avoid movement.
Such avoidance will ultimately make your pain worse and weaken your body (your muscles, your lungs, your heart — all are negatively impacted by a lack of regular physical activity).
Plus, lack of exercise heightens your risk of weight gain, and excess weight will speed joint deterioration and increase pain.
So, if you have joint pain, exercise is a must — but there are some important considerations you should know.
7 Top Rules: About Exercise and Joint Pain
7. Seek Professional Advice to Get Started
Depending on the condition of your joints, some exercises may not be safe for you while others could be ideal.
It’s a good idea to consult with a personal trainer and/or a physical therapist who can help you create a safe and optimal exercise plan.
6. Variety is Key
Exercising with joint pain is no different from any exercise program in that varying your activities ensures your muscles are challenged for the most comprehensive benefits.
Activities such as stretching, tai chi and yoga help gently increase your flexibility and maintain normal joint movement while relieving stiffness.
Pilates (and yoga) are excellent for building your core muscles while bicycling can boost your stamina.
5. Don’t Skip the Cardio
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to help reduce joint pain and improve joint function,[ii] but many skip this form of exercise for fear it will only stress their joints further.
You may need to stick with lower-impact forms of cardio like walking, swimming, water aerobics or bicycling, but don’t skip it entirely.
4. Include Strength Training
Include strength training in your workout routine as this helps build the muscles supporting your joints, ultimately helping to lessen pain and improve function.
You can use free weights, machines or even your own body weight to do strength training. For instance, simple body-weight activities such as squats can help you to increase your leg strength and boost your ability to perform daily movements, such as climbing stairs.
3. Warm Up Correctly
Start gradually and warm up using range-of-motion exercises or dynamic stretches which mimic the exercise you’re planning to do (such as walking lunges).
You can also apply a heating pad with far-infrared rays (FIR) prior to your workout to help your joints and muscles to relax, thereby relieving pain. You should start slow and gradually increase intensity over time.
2. Use Ice After Workouts
Icing your joints after a workout helps reduce any swelling and keeps pain to a minimum.
1. It Shouldn’t Hurt
It’s important to challenge yourself physically to get the most benefits from exercise, but you’ll want to avoid activities that cause pain, certainly any pain that is worse than you normally experience.
This is where a professional can help you learn the best exercises to build strength and stamina without exacerbating pain.
While some muscle soreness after exercise is to be expected, if any increased joint pain lasts longer than two hours you may need to reduce the strenuousness of your exercise program.