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Osteoarthritis: Exercise

Regular exercise can help control osteoarthritis. Joints themselves can’t be strengthened. But exercise can strengthen the muscles around the joints for better support. Exercise is also good for your overall health, and it’s important if you need to lose weight. It can improve balance and coordination and help prevent falls. Working with a physical therapist or certified fitness trainer may help you get more benefit from exercise. Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Four people with hand weights in shallow part of swimming pool.

Low-Impact Aerobics

Aerobic exercise improves overall health and helps control weight. Low-impact forms of exercise limit stress on your weight-bearing joints. Try low-impact activities such as: water aerobics, walking outside or on a treadmill, bicycling, a low-impact aerobics class, using a stationary bicycle, elliptical trainer, or stair machine.

What About Sports?

Work with your doctor or physical therapist to find safe ways to continue to play your favorite sport. You may want to discuss these options:

  • Use a brace. Proper bracing may enable you to continue to play higher-impact sports.

  • Change your sport. Switch to a form of your sport that puts less stress on your problem joint. For example, switch from downhill skiing to cross-country, or from singles tennis to doubles.

For Flexibility

These exercises can be done every day.

  • Stretching is done by extending a muscle without jerking or bouncing. The stretch is then held for 10–20 seconds at a time.

  • Range-of-motion exercises are done by gently moving the joint as far as it can go in each direction without pain.

  • Yoga and tai chi promote flexibility through slow, gentle movement.

For Strength

These exercises can be done 3–4 times a week. Allow a day of rest between sessions. Warm up with 10–20 minutes of aerobic exercise followed by stretching.

  • Isometric exercises are done by tightening the muscles without moving the joint. This may be a good way to strengthen the muscles around a stiff joint.

  • Resistance exercises are done by pushing or pulling against a weight. Start with light weights. Slowly increase the number of repetitions and the amount of weight.

 

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