Exercising with arthritis

By Tristan Hall (Exercise Physiologist) - Full Circle Wellness

Arthritis is a painful condition that impacts many Queenslanders. But, there are methods we can put in place to help manage arthritis and reduce the pain it can cause. One of the most common and effective of these treatments is exercise. 

Before we dive into the benefits of exercise for arthritis, lets first take a look into exactly what arthritis is. Arthritis is one of the most common conditions in Australia. It affects over 3.6 million people.  Here in Queensland about 676,000 people live with arthritis. 

Put simply, arthritis means joint inflammation (arthros = joint and itis = inflammation/swelling). There are many different types of arthritis which can present with similar symptoms. However, they are all very different. Arthritis can present as an inflammatory disease which can spread around a number of joints in the body (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Arthritis can also present in a single joint, such as what happens in people with Osteoarthritis (OA).

If you ever experience joint pain, swelling or discomfort it is important to speak to your doctor to make sure you get a correct diagnosis.

Exercising with Arthritis 

Exercising with arthritis may make you feel like you are doing more harm than good, but this isn't necessarily true. Consider for example, when you injure a muscle, you want to get moving as soon as possible to reduce the swelling. This is no different to arthritis. Increasing blood flow to the joint and strengthening the muscles which support the joint will help to reduce pain and increase your ability to use the joint. 

How to best exercise with arthritis will depend on the type of arthritis you have, the severity of the condition and the joints affected. Below we have listed various types of exercises that best suit arthritis. 

  • Hydrotherapy -  Hydrotherapy or water-based exercise has many benefits when it comes to arthritis management. The pressure of the water provides compression which can help reduce inflammation. The buoyancy of the water also reduces the stress on joints making it easier and less painful to move. Hydrotherapy is a great option for more severe cases of arthritis.
  • Walking and cycling -  If walking is possible, and not too painful, it is a great choice when it comes arthritis. Walking is also a great cardiovascular exercise (heart and lungs). It is very important to take care of our cardiovascular system as about 79% of all people with arthritis also have a cardiovascular disease. Walking is fantastic for arthritis as it allows us to weight bear and strengthen the muscles in our lower body. If walking causes too much pain, cycling is a great alternative. Cycling allows us to exercise our heart and lungs without placing added stress on our knee joints.
  • Strength training - Resistance training improves both the endurance and strength of muscles. Improving the strength of the muscles surrounding a joint with arthritis will reduce stress on the joint and reduce pain. Increasing the strength of the muscles near an arthritis affected joint (e.g. the hip if you have knee arthritis, also helps lower the stress on that joint.
  • Mobility (improving range of motion) - Correctly mobilising a joint reduces pain and helps manage the long-term health of a joint. Improving the range of motions in a joint allows you to use that joint more. If you think about hitting the same spot on a timber block over and over again, it will likely make a deep imprint. If we had a bigger block and spread out where we hit it, we would make more imprints but not as deep. Mobility works in a similar way. If we can spread the load over a greater joint range, we can better share the impact and reduce the damage. Mobility is often neglected, but forms a very important part of a complete management plan for arthritis.


Working with an exercise physiologist 

If you or someone you know suffers from a form of arthritis; exercise is a great way to help manage the condition. This is where an Exercise Physiologist can help. 

Exercise Physiologists are university qualified health professionals who prescribe exercise for people to better manage their health, or a specific condition (like arthritis). An Exercise Physiologist can work with you to develop a tailored exercise program that is safe and suitable for your individual needs. 


Tristan Hall (Exercise Physiologist) - Full Circle Wellness 





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