When you have arthritis, being active is good for your overall health and sense of well-being.
Exercise keeps your muscles strong and increases your range of motion (This is how much you can bend and flex your joints). Tired, weak muscles add to the pain and stiffness of arthritis.
Stronger muscles also help you with balance to prevent falls. Being stronger can also give you more energy, and help you lose weight and sleep better.
If you will be having surgery, exercising can help you stay strong, which will speed up your recovery.
Choose from these activities
Water exercises may be the best exercise for your arthritis. Swimming laps, water aerobics, or even just walking in the shallow end of a pool all make the muscles around your spine and legs stronger.
Ask your doctor if you can use a stationary bike. Be aware that if you have arthritis of the hip or knee cap, biking can worsen your symptoms.
If you are not able to do water exercises or use a stationary bike, try walking, as long as it does not cause too much pain. Walk on smooth, even surfaces, such as the sidewalks near your home or inside a shopping mall.
Ask your physical therapist or doctor to show you gentle exercises that will increase your range of motion and strengthen the muscles around your knees.
As long as you do not overdo it, staying active and getting exercise will not make your arthritis get worse faster.
Taking acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or another pain medicine before you exercise is OK. But do not overdo your exercise because you took the medicine.
If exercise causes your pain to worsen, try cutting back on how long or how hard you exercise the next time.
Iversen MD. Introduction to physical medicine, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al., eds. Kelly's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 38.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.