Osteoarthritis Living With Arthritis Exercises

Obesity is a major factor in the development of osteoarthritis and the aggravation of joint pain. Reducing your weight and maintaining good posture eases the stress on the joints, and can help relieve joint pain. For instance, knees receive an impact of three to five times total body weight when going down stairs. A combination of diet and exercise can help reduce your overall body weight, and may be the single most effective non-drug method of arthritis pain relief.

Arthritis Exercises

Exercise, using proper form and done consistently, provides some arthritis pain relief, assists with good posture, and increases your energy and vitality. Four categories of arthritis exercises should be considered: flexibility, aerobic, strength, and specific joint work.

Flexibility: Stretch the major muscle groups. Work slowly and never stretch to the point of muscle or joint pain. The following is a sample of the types exercises that can help improve flexiblity in arthritis. Consult with your doctor or therapist for a comprehensive list of exercises appropriate for your osteoarthritis.

  • Bend over and try to touch your toes to stretch the hamstrings.
  • With your hand on a rail or table, use your free hand behind you to pull your foot upwards, working the quad muscles.
  • Stretch the calf muscles by standing up on your toes, holding for a moment, and returning to a normal standing position.
  • Rotate your arms in a slow “windmill” motion to improve the range of motion in your shoulders.
  • Move your head from side to side, trying to look back over your shoulder to strengthen and stretch the neck muscles.

Aerobic: This type of exercise is the best for your heart and lungs. In a short period of time you’ll notice increased endurance, enabling you to be more mobile. Choose a low-impact activity you enjoy, like swimming, walking, or cycling. Start slow, and gradually increase the resistance until your heart is pumping harder than usual. You are at a good aerobic level if you can break a sweat and still carry on a conversation at the same time. Build gradually each day until you reach your goal.

Strength: Use an exercise machine, or use free weights, either method is effective, but start with light resistance and build gradually. Never listen to the “no pain no gain” mantra! It’s a sure path to problems. Using proper form is essential with the machine or free weights. This is an area where an hour at your local health club or gym working with a training professional versed in exercises appropriate for osteoarthritis is well worth the investment.

Specific Joint Exercises: These types of exercises might be the most beneficial as they are exercises specifically designed to provide arthritis pain relief. Your goal is to improve the free range of motion in the joint affected by osteoarthritis, as well as prevent further damage. See your physician or physical therapist for a plan custom designed for you.

The Role of Good Posture

Good posture relieves stress on vulnerable joints. When standing for long periods of time, protect your knees, back, neck, and hips by distributing your weight evenly on both feet. Make sure your work surface and chair are at the proper level for the type of work you are doing. If you are carrying things, let your stronger joints bear the burden. For example, use your palms instead of your fingers when lifting or carrying objects. Carry heavier items closer to your body, reducing the stresses that can lead to joint pain.

Arthritis Exercise and Depression: The Added Bonus

The link between chronic pain and emotional response is well documented. When chronic pain is coupled with a decrease in mobility and the ability to do activities once enjoyed, frustration, and potentially depression, set in. In fact, the vast majority of people suffering with chronic arthritis symptoms experience some level of depression.

A significant amount of recent research has evaluated the effects of exercise on mood. A study of 156 clinically depressed middle-aged and elderly men and women at Duke University Medical Center found that participants who took an antidepressant and exercised for 30 minutes three times a week showed the most improvement compared to participants who either exercised or took antidepressants. The researchers also discovered that continuing regular exercise prevented recurrence of depression.

So, one more reason to include regular aerobic exercises in your treatment regimen: It keeps depression at bay!


Duke University Medical Center. (2000, September 11). Effect of exercise on reducing major depression appears to be long-lasting.

Arthritis Foundation. (2002). 10 ways you can protect your joints.

National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (2001). Questions and answers about arthritis and exercise [NIH Publication No. 01-4855].

School of Health Professions and School of Medicine, University of Missouri. (2003). Physical fitness.