Joints allow you to perform remarkably complex movements. However, if you’re injured or suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, they can be a source of pain and reduced range of motion. That impaired mobility can keep you from exercising—which can trigger a domino effect in the development or worsening of other conditions like obesity, osteoporosis, or sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle).
The good news is that a joint-friendly exercise routine can reduce joint pain and reverse the downward spiral of immobility. According to a 2022 literature review that appeared in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, exercise that takes your joints into consideration not only helps reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis but also improves joint function.
Your Joints Will Love These Exercises
If you’re suffering with painful joints, it’s important to choose the type of exercise you engage in wisely. Running, jumping, deep squats, and high-impact activities can make symptoms worse and may accelerate joint damage. Instead, try one or more of these gentler forms of exercise. But just remember, exercise should not be painful. If it hurts, stop.
- Walking: Whether you walk around your neighborhood or opt for a treadmill, walking increases the circulation of synovial fluid, the thick liquid located between your joints that helps to lubricate it. To maximize its benefits, keep a good pace and slowly increase your speed and distance as you gain strength and mobility.
- Cycling: Riding a recumbent or stationary bike puts less weight on your knees than walking does. Start with 15 minutes and build up to a minimum of 30 minutes per session every other day.
- Resistance Training: Strengthening the muscles around affected joints results in less pain, swelling, and joint damage, as well as decreased bone loss. Look for a class or a trainer that employs joint-friendly exercises using light weights, stretchy bands, or body weight resistance. Incorporate resistance workouts two to three times per week.
- Water Aerobics: The buoyancy of water is especially easy on joints. Simply walking in a pool offers plenty of resistance to tone and strengthen your muscles. To get the most from your water workout, look for a water aerobics class that blends aerobic and resistance exercise.
- Tai Chi: This Chinese martial art involves performing a series of relaxed, fluid movements with a calm, yet focused, mental state. Studies have shown that tai chi improves balance, muscle strength, and flexibility. Practitioners also report more energy and reduced anxiety.
- Elliptical Training and Stair Machines: Designed for fluid motion, these machines offer aerobic exercise that burns calories and benefits your heart while being easy on joints.
Stretching for Joint Pain
Stretching keeps your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. Plus, the flexibility you gain helps maintain a range of motion in your joints. Just make sure you don’t try to stretch “cold” muscles as that can increase your odds of injury. Instead, stretch after your workout when muscles are still warm. For maximum benefit, hold each stretch, without bouncing, for 30 seconds. You should feel tension during the stretch. However, if you feel pain, stop as that may indicate an injury or tissue damage.