Arthritis and rheumatic disease are leading causes of pain and disability. Arthritis or osteoarthritis is a common chronic disorder of the joints and mainly affects older people. In healthy joints, cartilage covers the surface of the joint and helps to absorb shock and allows for smooth movement.


In arthritis; the cartilage breaks down, leaving the ends of the bone unprotected and the joint loses its ability to move smoothly. The most common joints affected by arthritis are hips, knees, big toes, spine and hands.

Why it’s important to exercise


Although pain and functional limitations present challenges to physical activity among individuals with arthritis, regular exercise is essential for managing these conditions. Specifically, exercise reduces pain, maintains muscle strength around affected joints, reduces joint stiffness, prevents functional decline, and improves quality of life. Exercise can be effective in relieving symptoms as pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs, but has fewer side effects.

Things to remember:


  • Focus on low-intensity and low-duration when starting an exercise program.
  • Avoid strenuous exercises during acute flares and periods of inflammation.
  • Allow ample amount of time to warm up at a low intensity level .
  • Progression in duration of activity should be emphasised over increased intensity.
  • The benefits of exercise are lost if the exercise stops; use strategies that will help with program continuation.
  • Joint range may be restricted due to arthritic changes in the joint and swelling. Don’t push through those restrictions. Over time, the range of motion should gradually be increased by working to the full extent of range tolerated.
  • A little bit of soreness during exercise is normal. However if there is significant pain or swelling during or after exercise, the exercise program may need to be revised.

Types of exercises recommended


Strength training– The thigh, hip and calf muscles, which are important for daily function, are often weak in people with arthritis. Resistance can be applied with weights, elastic tubing or body weight. Start lightly completing 2-5 repetitions using pain threshold as an index of intensity, as they improve gradually increase to 10-12 repetitions of an exercise.


Aerobic exercise – Activities may include walking, cycling, using a rowing machine or a seated stepper. High-impact exercises such as jogging should be avoided because it places high loading on the affected joints.


Aquatic (water) exercise – can be done 1:1 or in a class or group. Those with severe arthritis may find aquatic exercise useful, as the weightlessness minimises the load on your joints.


Other types of exercises – tai chi, balance exercises and stretching will improve flexibility and the range of motion of affected joints. It is important to always stretch within a pain-free range of motion.


Exercise Right recommends aiming to exercise 4 to 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes.