Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a chronic condition in which there is inflammation in the synovial tissue of the joints. These patients experience pain during movement. For this reason, many RA sufferers tend to be sedentary. However, regular exercise is beneficial in minimizing pain and strengthening bones and muscles. There are three main groups of exercises: stretching, strength-building and conditioning. Even though exercise has been proved to have short- and long-term benefits, there are precautions that RA patients should take to prevent further injury of the joints.
Because RA damages joints, an RA patient could very well have weakened joints that can increase the risk of injury during strenuous exercises. Therefore, lower-impact exercises are best. These include activities like stretching to help maintain flexibility, walking and swimming. If arthritis is centered in the hips or knees, climbing activities like stair-step machines should be limited so that excess strain is not placed on the hip or knee joints.
Recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine state that when there is severe inflammation of the joints in RA patients, strenuous exercise is contraindicated and two to three days of rest is needed to alleviate the flare-up. After resting, low-impact exercises can be initiated to maintain strength in the muscles. High-impact exercises like jogging should be avoided due to the increased stress it puts on joints, but a rheumatologist can make the best determination if it is safe.
The best exercises for RA sufferers are low-impact activities during severe joint inflammation. When the pain subsides, additional low-impact exercises such as using tension bands, gym equipment, light weights or yoga can be added to the routine. If there is significant pain after exercising, the exercise that caused the pain should be stopped. If exercise is tolerated well, the program should be continued or even expanded. The benefits of regular activity will soon show in reduced pain and better overall health.