Health Column: Exercise eases arthritis pain

Want to fight arthritis? Get off the couch. Moving the body is the best medicine for arthritis pain. Regular, moderate exercise offers a variety of benefits.

A 2008 study published by the Mayo Clinic shows a connection between physical inactivity and chronic musculoskeletal complaints involving muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. People with chronic conditions such as back pain, arthritis or neck pain suffer not only with pain but also with fatigue and even depression. When a person avoids exercise, joints become less mobile and the surrounding muscles shrink, causing increased discomfort to the joint area. A physical therapist or personal trainer can tailor exercise programs based on health conditions and fitness levels.

Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscle around the joints and increases flexibility and endurance. It reduces inflammation from arthritis and related conditions and lowers the risk of other chronic conditions.

You’ve got to move. But sometimes it’s not so easy to get started when you’re achy and sore. The pain level you experience will determine the level you would start with in your exercise plan.

If you suffer from intense pain, then start with flexibility movements, which are basically stretching exercises that will improve your range of motion and help you perform daily activities that have already become difficult. Start from the top and work your way down. Many of your exercises can be done sitting in a chair. Move your neck side to side, do shoulder rolls, wrist circles, bring your knees up and do ankle rolls. Doing this a few times a day will gradually increase blood flow to your joints, leading to freedom of movement without pain. Other modalities such as yoga and tai chi are also great forms of flexibility exercise. Look in your local paper to find classes supported by the town.

Muscular fitness, as with strength training, helps to make your joints more stable and increases bone density. Stronger muscles keep your bones positioned properly, decreasing injuries. Strengthening can be obtained by using resistant bands, tubing or weights. Be sure to use proper form, meaning good posture, and have a resistance that allows you to complete 8 to 15 repetitions for each exercise. If you can do more, your resistance is too light.

Aerobic fitness basically means to get your heart pumping, which in turn increases your lung capacity. The rewards are improved metabolism, a better mood, more energy, increased stamina and decreased inflammation. Walking, use of a stationary bike, swimming or using a rebounder (mini trampoline) are just a few of the many ways to get aerobically fit. Just getting off the couch during commercials while watching television is a great way to begin. Stand in place and march while swinging your arms. Try to get your hands to swing above the heart to increase blood flow and oxygen intake. This will help improve circulation, which is a key component to nourishing joints.

For those with joint damage, high-impact exercise can make arthritis pain feel worse. It’s best to consult with your doctor before starting a workout regimen. Your doctor might suggest that you take an anti-inflammatory prior to your exercise workout. If you can exercise through the discomfort, it will help keep your joints moving.

Make exercise a daily routine and you will lessen arthritis pain. A consistent, balanced fitness program of cardio, muscle strengthening and stretching will do more than help decrease arthritis pain — it could aid in the prevention of further chronic pain and help prevent other serious conditions such as heart disease and hypertension and lower your cholesterol.

Elyse Ray is a licensed massage therapist and fitness trainer specializing in muscle strengthening and flexibility training. She operates her own business in a private studio on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.