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How Do You Increase Your Strength If You Have Arthritis?

Mar 2, 2008
Many people with arthritis don't exercise. The reasons they give range from being too tried to not having enough time or not knowing how or not having access to a gym.

Just because you have arthritis doesn't mean you can't exercise. In fact, proper exercise is a critical component of any comprehensive arthritis treatment program regardless of type of arthritis. In fact, if you get involved in a good exercise program, your long-term prognosis improves dramatically!

Of the many types of exercise, strength training seems to be the one that appears to be most mysterious and frightening. While strength training is not a replacement for proper medication or other types of arthritis are such as joint protection, weight control, and rest, it still can be an important part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Before starting any kind of exercise program, it's important for you to consult your doctor as well as the person who will be in charge of your exercise program. You need to have a program that will be safe, customized, efficient, and effective.

Before any exercise, it's important to warm up so you're not exercising a cold joint and running the risk of potential injury. Often people are so eager to start an exercise program that they throw caution to the winds and wind up hurting themselves, getting discouraged, and giving up.

Exercise should be started when the arthritis is relatively well-controlled. If joints are inflamed, exercise can not only hurt but can also potentially cause damage. So it's important to wait until the arthritis is either in remission or relatively inactive.

If a joint is inflamed it may be OK to continue an aerobic regimen that doesn't stress that joint and gentle stretches that also don't involve the affected joint or joints. However, strength training should be avoided.

Check to see how you feel the day after exercise. A bit of aching in the muscles is normal but if the pain is pretty severe, it's time to reevaluate your program, your technique, or the frequency of exercise. In any event, it's time to rest.

It's also important to work the whole body. While one joint may be the one you concentrate on, don't neglect the others. Your fitness program should include overall flexibility, strengthening, and aerobic exercise. Also focusing on only one area might make that one area stronger but may leave another- usually the opposing muscle group more prone to injury.

Arthritis symptoms that affect specific joints should be a tip-off to avoid stressing those joints. For example, if your hands hurt, avoid barbells or any other type of exercise that involves gripping. Consider using straps or other appliances.

Organize your program so you can do those exercises that focus on one area in one session... then move on.

Posture is very important. Good technique during strength training is what gets you stronger. Using poor technique can not only slow down your progress but also makes you more prone to injury.

Generally dumbbells are the best type of weights to get started with. These come in all different weight types and make it possible to work specific muscle groups without 'hiding" the weakness of one side or the other.

You should concentrate on form. Also, it's far better to focus on repetitions using less weight than to try to use more weight. More weight can lead to more injuries.

As you become more accustomed to your weight-training program, it's important to increase the amount of weight by only small amounts. This is not a race. Your goal should be to try and enjoy what you're doing while gaining a sense of improved fitness. Also, make sure when you start out, you start out slowly. Using one pound weights may be the answer. Now, that sounds a bit extreme but the important thing is not to injure yourself when starting out. You can always increase the amount of weight over time but it's hard to come back mentally and physically from injury.

Certain types of exercises such as shoulder presses should be avoided if you have shoulder problems. Also, a specific joint such as the wrist or elbow- if you have significant problems- should not be stressed. Any exercise that causes undue pain after you do it should either be eliminated or modified.

Make sure you use good equipment. Weight-training gloves are a good idea to use to help protect your hands and wrists.
About the Author
Nathan Wei, MD FACP FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. For more info: Arthritis Treatment
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