For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), exercise can be hugely beneficial for relieving pain and joint stiffness.
People with RA who exercise may find that they have less pain than those who do not. Exercise can reduce painful symptoms, improve joint function and flexibility, increase range of motion, and boost mood.
It is best to seek medical advice before starting any exercise program and work with a doctor and a physical therapist to develop a tailored exercise plan.
The following types of exercise may help relieve the pain, joint stiffness, and other symptoms that RA can cause:
Stretching can help improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and increase range of motion. Stretching daily is important for relieving RA symptoms.
The ideal stretching routine will be different for each person and depend on which joints are affected and what symptoms occur. However, stretches often involve slowly and gently moving the joints of the knees, hands, and elbows.
A typical stretching routine may consist of:
- warming up by walking in place or pumping the arms while sitting or standing for 3–5 minutes.
- holding each stretch for 20–30 seconds before releasing it.
- repeating each stretch 2–3 times. Using a yoga strap may help people maintain proper form while stretching. If someone does not have a yoga strap, they could use an alternative such as a dog leash.
Some people may find it beneficial to work with a physical therapist who understands RA to learn the correct way to perform the stretches that meet their personal needs.
Walking is a low-impact form of exercise that can help with aerobic conditioning, heart and joint health, and mood.
It is essential to wear proper shoes and stay hydrated, even if the walking is not strenuous. It is often sensible to walk slowly initially and then increase the pace when possible.
A person may want to start a walking routine on flat, even surfaces before progressing to uphill, downhill, or uneven surfaces.
3. Flowing movements, such as tai chi and yoga
A 2013 studyTrusted Source of participants with RA who had done group tai chi suggested that tai chi could reduce anxiety and depression while increasing self-motivation and self-esteem.
The participants did tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks.
A 2013 study Trusted Source of women with RA who did Iyengar yoga suggests that this exercise had mood, fatigue, and pain disability benefits. The participants did yoga twice a week for six weeks.
It is possible to find free online videos or apps like Gaia for tai chi or yoga workouts, including some yoga workouts specifically for people with RA. A person should always talk to their doctor before starting a yoga or tai chi practice.
Pilates is a low-impact activity that can increaseTrusted Source flexibility for enhanced joint health.
It can be helpful to do Pilates poses that activate the core muscles and emphasize movements that help with stability. Pilates can be good for overall movement patterns, similar to tai chi and yoga.
People new to Pilates should begin slowly and seek guidance from a certified trainer if possible.