Arthritis, a condition characterised by joint inflammation and pain, can significantly impact someone’s quality of life. While it might seem counterintuitive, engaging in strength training exercises may be beneficial at managing arthritis symptoms and improving joint function.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of strength training for arthritis and provide guidance on how to include it into your daily routine.
Understanding Arthritis and Its Impacts
Arthritis encompasses various conditions that affect the joints. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
OA is a condition that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. OA is now thought to be the result of a joint working extra hard to repair itself. While RA is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly starts attacking healthy tissues lining the joints. RA leads to joint inflammation and pain.
Both types of arthritis can result in pain, stiffness, reduced range of motion, and muscle weakness.
These symptoms often lead to decreased physical activity, which may worsen joint problems and overall health issues.
The Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training, also known as resistance training or weightlifting, involves using resistance to build muscle and increase strength.
While it may not directly treat the underlying causes of arthritis, it may offer several benefits for people living with arthritis:
#1. Improved Joint Function: Strength training exercises help build muscle mass, which provides support to arthritic joints. This improved support can improve joint stability and function.
#2. Pain Management: Stronger muscles can reduce the burden on joints, which may help decrease pain and discomfort.
#3. Enhanced Range of Motion: Regular strength training can increase flexibility and range of motion in joints, making it easier to perform daily activities.
#4. Better Body Composition: Maintaining a healthy body weight through strength training can reduce the stress on weight-bearing joints which may improve arthritis symptoms.
#5. Bone Health: Weight-bearing exercises can help improve bone density, which is crucial for individuals with arthritis, as some medications may affect bone health.
#6. Increased Energy: Strength training can boost energy levels which may help with arthritis-related fatigue.
Starting a Strength-Training Program
Before beginning any exercise program, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider, especially if you have arthritis.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started with strength training for arthritis:
#1. Assessment: Your healthcare provider or a qualified fitness professional (such as an exercise physiologist) can assess your current fitness level and recommend appropriate exercises.
#2. Safety First: Choose exercises that are joint-friendly and low-impact. Start with light weights or resistance bands to avoid over-doing it.
#3. Proper Form: Learn the correct form for each exercise to prevent injury. Consider working with a certified trainer (such as an exercise physiologist) to learn the proper technique for each exercise.
#4. Gradual Progression: Start slowly and gradually increase the weight or resistance as your strength improves. Avoid pushing yourself too hard. It’s best to start slow and build yourself up.
#5. Rest and Recovery: Allow your muscles and joints time to recover between strength training sessions. This helps prevent overuse injuries.
#6. Consistency: Consistency is key. Aim for at least two to three strength training sessions per week for the best results.
Examples of Arthritis-Friendly Exercises:
- Leg lifts
- Seated leg presses
- Wall push-ups
- Resistance band exercises
- Water aerobics or hydrotherapy classes
Strength training is a valuable tool for managing arthritis symptoms and improving joint function. By building muscle, reducing pain, improving flexibility, and promoting overall well-being, strength training empowers individuals with arthritis to lead more active and fulfilling lives.
Remember to consult with your healthcare provider and start slowly to ensure a safe and effective strength training program tailored to your unique needs.