An osteoarthritis is a common form of joint discomfort that affects over a quarter of the general population at some point in their lives. It’s one of the most common reasons people stop participating in activities they once enjoyed, and along with its related conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, it can significantly decrease your quality of life.
However, osteoarthritis isn’t the same for everyone. While some experience a slow and steady decline throughout their twenties and thirties, for others, the onset of the condition happens much earlier. This means there are certain risk factors that may make it more likely you’ll develop the condition.
Fortunately, exercise has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis. In this article, we’ll discuss the best exercises for osteoarthritis, and how to perform each of them at home.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative type of arthritis that causes the joints to rub together abnormally. The condition typically affects weight-bearing joints in the body like the knees, hips, and spine.
Osteoarthritis is a term that refers to inflammation and damage to the articular cartilage of joints. As we age, our joints start to show signs of wear and tear.
Along with its related conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, it can significantly decrease your quality of life as it reduces mobility and increases pain and discomfort. Many people who suffer from osteoarthritis find that their symptoms worsen with age.
There are certain risk factors that may cause you to develop osteoarthritis earlier than others. For example, those who have had an injury or have a family history of the condition are more likely to develop it early on in life. In addition, some studies show that joint overuse could increase your risk of developing the condition while things like obesity and smoking might make it worse.
Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis as well as other conditions associated with inflammation. In this article, we’ll discuss exercises for osteoarthritis that you can perform at home to help keep your body healthy while reducing your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Different Types of Osteoarthritis
There are a few different types of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the general term for joint discomfort that leads to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
The two main variations of osteoarthritis are primary osteoarthritis and secondary osteoarthritis.
Primary osteoarthritis is not associated with other conditions or causes, while secondary osteoarthritis is caused by an underlying condition like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
The onset of the condition can vary from person to person. For some people, it starts in their twenties or thirties, while others experience it much earlier on in life. There are many risk factors that may contribute to developing the condition, such as family history, weight gain (which will increase pressure on joints), and previous injuries.
There are a number of potential risk factors that can increase your chances of developing this type of osteoarthritis, including:
► Obesity - excess weight puts more strain on the cartilage in your joints
► An injury - physical trauma often results in small cracks in your cartilage
► Certain medications - medications like prednisone and other corticosteroids can cause inflammation
► A family history - a family history of osteoarthritis increases your chance of developing it
► Rheumatoid arthritis - rheumatoid arthritis often leads to osteoarthritis later on down the line
How Does Osteoarthritis Occur?
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects your joints and helps them move smoothly becomes worn down, cracked, or damaged. This can happen for a number of reasons, including overuse, injury, or simply growing older.
The first symptom of osteoarthritis is typically joint pain. When this pain begins to occur, it’s important to start exercising and practicing an active lifestyle to reduce the risk of further damage.
Osteoarthritis happens when the joint cartilage breaks down, causing the bones to rub against each other. This causes inflammation and pain in your joints.
The condition is typically triggered by cartilage breakdown due to aging or injury. Researchers believe that there are certain factors that may increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, such as living a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, having depression or anxiety, experiencing a joint injury, and more.
Best Exercises for Someone With Osteoarthritis
While the best way to manage osteoarthritis is to keep active and live your life to the fullest, there are some exercises that may help the most. For example, you can use an exercise band to do squats—just loop it around your feet, then hold it in front of your chest with straight arms. Squat down as far as you comfortably can without locking your knees, then come back up. This will strengthen your quadriceps and give support to your knees.
Flexibility is also important. Yoga or a gentle stretching routine like this one can help improve your flexibility and potentially decrease pain.
Plus, these exercises will increase blood flow to the affected joints and muscles—which is crucial for people with osteoarthritis since they’re already dealing with limited mobility.
If you’re looking for the best exercises to relieve osteoarthritis pain, these are some of the most effective ones.
- Yoga - Yoga is a mindful practice that has been shown to help those with osteoarthritis reduce pain and increase range of motion (ROM). One study found that individuals who practiced yoga for at least 10 classes in a period of 6 months had lower levels of osteoarthritis pain than those who did not.
- Tai Chi - Tai chi is a centuries-old martial art form based on Taoist principles. It includes gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation that have been shown to help those with arthritis improve their balance and joint mobility, along with reducing their level of pain.
- Walking - Though walking may seem like an easy thing to do, it's one of the best ways to keep your joints moving as they should be. According to Caring Medical, when we walk, our joints take on up to three times their body weight every time we take a step forward! This process can help build muscle strength and prevent stiffness in the joints over time.
- Swimming - Swimming is another low-impact exercise that doesn't put pressure on your joints and helps maintain healthy muscle function in your hips and knees while also improving your balance and flexibility over time.
- Cycling - Cycling is great for anyone living in urban areas because you don't have to go very far before you find a bike lane.
How to Exercise for Osteoarthritis?
As we said, exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis. It’s also a valuable tool in keeping the condition from worsening.
So, how can you use exercise to keep the pain at bay?
The answer for this varies depending on the severity of your osteoarthritis, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to make sure you’re maintaining good form.
Exercise for osteoarthritis may be difficult at first, but it is a great way to maintain your joints in the long term. While some people may find it too challenging to exercise with osteoarthritis, there are many exercises that are helpful for those who do suffer from this condition.
Joint pain sufferers should always warm up before exercising and follow up with a cool down afterward. If you need more specific exercises that target your joints, there are also a number of exercises you can do in your home. Here are some easy exercises to perform at home (or anywhere) to help improve mobility and ease joint discomfort:
- Place your hands behind you on an elevated surface like a chair or couch cushion and bend your knees so your weight is on the balls of your feet. Lower yourself towards the ground by bending at the elbows until you feel a stretch in your arms but don’t go past 90 degrees. Return to starting position without locking elbows or moving forward too far. Repeat 10 times if possible.
- With feet together, step forward with one leg, bending both knees over that leg and lowering your body towards the ground so the front thigh is parallel to the floor. Extend your back leg behind you as you push off into a standing position. Repeat 10 times per side if able or switch legs halfway through the set if desired.
- Lying on your back with hands under your shoulders, lift your hips up off the ground while keeping your feet flat on the floor as much as possible (only go as high as comfortable).
- Holding onto a table and leaning forward slightly, then raise one knee up towards your chest (50 reps)
- Using two pillows or two books stacked on top of each other to create an incline, lie down on it with your back facing upwards and do leg lifts (10 on each side)
- Place a chair in front of a wall, lean against the wall with one leg lifted up behind you onto the chair’s seat (5 reps each leg)
- Lie down on your back and lift both legs off the ground carefully so that they’re at about 45-degree angles from the ground (hold for 10 seconds)
Strengthen Your Muscles and Joints
The best osteoarthritis exercises are those that strengthen your muscles and joints. One of the best ways to do this is with weight training or resistance bands. Weight training increases the size of your muscles, which allows them to do more work and reduces the amount of stress put on your joints. Similarly, resistance bands offer an alternative solution for people who may not be able to adequately exercise their muscles manually due to arthritis-related pain or other conditions.
One of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis is joint stiffness, which can be significantly reduced by using resistance training to build your muscles.
If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, it’s best to avoid weight-bearing exercises like squats or lunges. If you don’t, the weight on your joints may cause unnecessary pain and discomfort. Instead, try these:
- Chair squats: Place a chair behind you, squatting while keeping an upright position
- Wall squats: Stand with your back against a wall and take small steps away from it until you feel a stretch in your quadriceps muscles. Then slowly walk back up towards the wall and repeat
- Deep squats: Using a sturdy chair for balance, squat down as if you were going to sit in the chair
Stretching Is Key
The first thing to understand about exercises for osteoarthritis is that you should always stretch beforehand. Stretching helps increase your range of motion and reduces the chances of injuring yourself during exercise.
You can stretch for a few minutes before starting any form of exercise, or better yet, incorporate stretching into your workout routine for maximum benefit. The following poses are great for relieving pain in other parts of your body:
- Standing upright in mountain pose and placing one hand on the ground
- Place one hand on a chair and lean forward with feet together but not touching
- Interlace fingers behind the head with elbows as straight as possible
- Lying flat on the stomach with forehead towards the floor or pillow
There are also five general stretches (not specifically designated for the joints most affected by osteoarthritis) that you could try to reduce pain and discomfort:
- Chest Stretch
- Thoracic spine twist
- Spinal Twist
- Supine Pelvic Tilt with curl up
- Cat-Cow Stretch
Increase Your Flexibility
One of the best exercises for osteoarthritis is increasing your flexibility. Prolonged sitting and standing can lead to stiffness, tightness, and reduced mobility. In order to combat this and increase your range of motion, you can perform seated quad stretches and seated hamstring stretches.
These stretches can be done at a desk or chair—simply cross one leg over the other with the knee bent, and then lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in the hamstring muscle group. Hold this position for a minute or two before switching legs.
In addition to these stretches, you should also incorporate dynamic stretching into your routine. Dynamic stretching involves moving joints through their full range of motion while maintaining body alignment—you might think of it as warming up without an actual warm-up.
Dynamic stretching is more beneficial than simply holding static stretches because it promotes joint mobility and strength (a key component in preventing osteoarthritis). This can be done by performing movements like shoulder rotations, arm circles, deep lunges, butt kicks, and walking toe touches.
Beware of Overuse
Osteoarthritis is often caused by overuse. So, if you’re experiencing joint pain or stiffness in a certain area, you may want to invest in an ice pack or heat pack to help with the discomfort. Additionally, it’s important to maintain good posture and keep your joints mobile. If at any point you feel like you’ve overdone it while exercising, stop immediately. Never push through the discomfort or pain—lower the intensity of your workout or take a break until the pain goes away.
An easy way to maintain your joints and muscles is to exercise, but you should be wary of overuse. If you do too much at one time or without rest, you’ll likely experience aching joints, which may lead to the development of osteoarthritis.
It’s important to understand that not all exercises are suited for everyone. For example, if your joints are particularly sensitive and any kind of pressure leads to pain, it’s best to avoid exercises that put a strain on your joints. One example is running. If you have osteoarthritis in your knees or hips, you may want to consider an activity like swimming instead.
Natural Remedies to Help You With Your Osteoarthritis
Some of the best exercises for osteoarthritis are those that strengthen your muscles and joints. This will help improve both your physical comfort and the range of motion in your joints. It’s important to find an exercise routine that works with your limitations, but these exercises are effective regardless.
- Deep breathing - Deep breathing can be quite helpful when you feel a flare-up coming on because it stimulates blood flow to the area. It helps by transporting oxygen and nutrients to the tissue that has been injured, which relieves inflammation and pain.
- Balance exercise - One way to work on balance is to stand on one leg while extending your arms in front of you (like a balance beam). Take small steps in any direction while still balancing. If this is too difficult, try standing on one leg with your eyes closed for 30 seconds or so, then switch legs and repeat.
- Standing calf stretch - You can do this stretch by standing next to a wall for support, then bend forward at the hips until you feel a slight pull in the back of the calf muscle. Hold for 15-30 seconds before returning to starting position. Repeat three times per day as needed.
- Acupuncture - Acupuncture is considered an adjunct therapy for osteoarthritis. It consists of inserting hair-thin needles into the skin at strategic points to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and improve mobility. Acupuncture may help patients who suffer from chronic arthritis by blocking nerve impulses that cause joint swelling and stiffness.
- Hydrotherapy - Exercising your joints in a warm water pool. Hydrotherapy can be used to help with pain and mobility. Joints that are in a warm water pool for short periods of time will soak up the warmth, which causes them to relax and release their tension. This relaxation helps your muscles work more efficiently as well since they no longer have so much weight or pressure on them from other parts of the body.
After these exercises, you should feel better because there is less stress on joints, making it easier to move.