By Kirkwood Johnston, M.D.

A common misconception for people living with arthritis is that exercising will aggravate your joint pain. Actually, it helps to reduce joint pain, combats fatigue, and strengthens the muscles around your joints for greater flexibility. Sticking to a regular fitness plan can greatly improve movement, blood flow, joint support, and cardiovascular health. A fitness plan that includes exercise in range of motion, strengthening, and endurance can relieve symptoms and prevent further damage to your joints.

Exercise Tips for Arthritis

There are three types of exercises that will help to alleviate joint pain:

  • Range of Motion: These exercises help to increase joint mobility by stretching. Slight movements like gently bending and straightening the joints will help to stretch them progressively further until near normal range is achieved. This should be done prior to and after any strength and endurance exercise.
  • Strengthening: These types of exercises help to strengthen the muscles around the joint, making the joints less susceptible to damage. Isometrics is the recommended form of exercise for arthritis because it isolates muscle groups and involves no joint movement.
    • Examples include leg extensions, shoulder raises, calf raises, bicep curls, etc.
  • Endurance: These exercises are important for controlling weight because they can reduce pressure on the joints. Studies have shown that endurance training helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
    • Examples include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, or daily activities like golfing or mowing the lawn.

It is recommended to get 150 minutes or 2 ½ hours of moderately intense exercise per week. Also, staying hydrated and maintaining a balanced diet will help to increase performance and reduce inflammation by flushing out toxins in the body.

When Arthritis Pain Flares

An arthritis flare is a period of increased disease activity or worsening symptoms. It can be triggered by stress, injury to skin, bacterial infections, weather changes, and certain medications.

  • Apply Heat: Using heat before workouts will relax the joints and relieve pain before you begin. Heat should be applied for about 20 minutes before working out for optimal results.
  • Ice: After activity, applying ice to your joints will reduce swelling and eases inflammation by constricting blood vessels.
  • Massage: By moving lactic acid build up that creates soreness, massage can improve pain and ease soreness.
  • Guard Against Infection: Having an auto-immune disease increases risk for infection in turn causing an arthritis flare. Washing your hands often and avoiding close contact will all help to decrease the likelihood of infection.

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about a fitness plan that is best for you.


Dr. Johnston is a board-certified physician who specializes in Rheumatology at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic, Downtown at The Shops at Houston Center 4, Berthelsen Main Campus, and Pearland Clinic. His clinical interests include arthritis, quality of life issues, and vasculitis.

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