Inflammatory arthritis, including conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and ankylosing spondylitis, brings with it a unique set of challenges.
Joint inflammation, pain, stiffness, and fatigue are constant companions for those living with these conditions. The body of research on strength training and inflammatory forms of arthritis is still growing. However, strength training may play a key part in the management of some inflammatory conditions.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of strength training for inflammatory arthritis and provide guidance on how to get started.
Understanding Inflammatory Arthritis
Inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to chronic inflammation.
This inflammation can result in joint damage, pain, and reduced mobility. While medications and other treatments are crucial for managing inflammatory arthritis, lifestyle choices, including exercise, can play a role in improving symptoms.
But it is important to note that inflammatory arthritis must be managed with medications under the guidance of a GP or specialist.
The Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training can play a part in managing your arthritis by:
#1. Joint Support: Strengthening the muscles around affected joints can provide better support and stability, reducing the stress on the joints themselves.
#2. Pain management: Strong muscles can help distribute the load more evenly across joints, potentially reducing pain and discomfort.
#3. Increased Range of Motion: Regular strength training can improve flexibility and range of motion, making it easier to perform daily tasks with less pain and stiffness.
#4. Enhanced Bone Health: Some strength training exercises are weight-bearing, which can help maintain or improve bone density. This is especially important for people with inflammatory arthritis who may be at risk of bone loss due to medications or reduced physical activity.
#5. Boosted Energy Levels: Fatigue is a common symptom of inflammatory arthritis. Strength training can help increase energy levels, allowing you to engage more actively in daily life.
#6. Psychological Benefits: Exercise, including strength training, can have positive effects on mental health by reducing stress and anxiety, which may be common in people living with a chronic condition.
How can Strength Training Help my Inflammatory Arthritis?
Inflammation and Pain
Strength training can contribute to a more balanced anti-inflammatory profile while enhancing physical performance. It elevates the production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10, which play a role in creating a positive inflammatory response.
Medication Side Effects
Many inflammatory conditions require medications, like Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). These medicines can have side effects, especially on your tendons, making them weaker and more prone to injury. Strength training, however, can make your tendons stronger, reducing the risk of injury.
Joint and Bone Health
Inflammatory conditions increase the risk of joint problems and bone loss. Strength training puts the right kind of stress on your bones and joints, prompting your body to build stronger bones and slowing down the damage caused by inflammation and aging.
Pain, fatigue, and reduced physical activity can lead to muscle loss, a condition called sarcopenia. Strength training helps you maintain and even increase your muscle strength, which is crucial for your overall health.
Fatigue is a common symptom of inflammatory diseases and can be especially tough during flare-ups. Strength training can help combat fatigue by making your body better at handling everyday activities, saving your energy.
Social Isolation and Mental Well Being
Inflammatory conditions can affect your mental health, leading to isolation and other challenges. Strength training offers not only physical benefits but also opportunities for socialisation and improved mental well being. It can boost your confidence, self-mastery, and overall mental health.
What About Flare Ups?
While flare-ups can still happen, being stronger and healthier can make them less severe and frequent. Completely stopping strength training during flare-ups isn’t the best long-term approach. Staying active and strong can help you better manage these episodes in the future.
As always, before starting any new exercise activities, it is important to speak with your GP or appropriate health professional to ensure it is safe and suitable.
This article was derived from the information presented by David Smith from Exercise Right, David is an Accredited Exercise Scientist at Absolute Health and Performance. You can read his article here.
Updated September 2023 – Adapted from David Smith from Exercise Right