Pain And Physical Activity

An inflamed, hot or painful joint needs rest, but too little movement over longer periods can cause muscle weakness, pain and stiffness. It’s important to find the right balance of rest and exercise. Here’s some information to help you find your balance.

When you have pain it can be easy to slip into thinking only about how the pain limits your activity. These thoughts might lead you to passive treatments like heat packs or medication. While these types of strategies may be useful for a couple of weeks after an injury or during a flare, when the pain is ongoing, reintroducing physical activity is important.

Physical activity refers to any movement of the body. This means it covers a broad range of activities, including recreational activities like games and sport, transport such as walking and cycling, work-related activity, household chores and daily activity as well as planned or structured exercise.

We all know that being physically active is good for us. It is an important part of staying fit and healthy and people who are physically active may experience less pain.

It is important to choose the right type of physical activity or exercise. If you aren’t sure which exercises are suitable for you, talk to your doctor and an exercise professional, such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.

There are many different forms of exercise to choose from. The type that will be best for you will depend on your personal preference, the severity of your symptoms and whether or not you have other forms of arthritis or other health issues.

Aim to do some form of exercise every day. The exercises you choose should ideally help with:

Flexibility – stretching and range of movement exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles. These will help keep your joints moving properly and ease stiffness.

Strength – these type of exercises build muscle strength, provide stability to your joints and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.

Overall fitness – exercise that gets you moving and increases your heart rate, such as walking, swimming or cycling, will help improve the health of your heart and lungs. These exercises can also help with endurance, weight loss, and prevention of other health problems. This type of exercise is also called aerobic exercise, cardiovascular exercise or ‘cardio’.

Many types of exercise can help with flexibility, strength and overall fitness at the same time including:

  • Swimming or water exercise classes
  • Tai chi
  • Walking
  • Chair exercises
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Strength training
  • Dancing

Choose something you enjoy and you’re committed to doing. Consider exercising with friends, in a group or a team environment if you find it difficult to get motivated.

Try to focus on the levels of physical activity you can sustain without having a flare up, rather than what you might not be able to do yet. Increasing activity levels slowly can be a good approach if you have pain currently.

It is always important to exercise safely. Here are some general suggestions to help you:

  • See your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
    • If you have had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon, or health professional such as a physiotherapist, which movements you should limit or avoid.
  • Start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months.
  • Warm up thoroughly beforehand. Cool down after exercise with gentle, sustained movements.
  • Pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of movement.
  • Don’t try to do too much too soon. If you feel out of breath, slow down.
  • If your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session.
  • If an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what is normal, then stop this activity.