Coping with arthritic pain when exercising

Tips to help you stay physically active when you have arthritis.

Most people with arthritis have pain and discomfort. Some of them feel exercise will increase this discomfort and can see exercise as a barrier because of this. Yet, we all know how important exercise is in our daily life to keep us healthy, strengthen our muscles, bones and to regulate our inner being. 

According to the Arthritis Foundation pain caused by arthritis comes from different sources:

  • Damaged and inflamed joints and tissues: Most people that have arthritis exhibit this type of pain and actually see their joints twist or swell in the fingers, knees, hips etc.
  • Weak, tense muscles: When there is a certain level of joint damage, most people become tense as they move around. Tense muscles cause pain by building up lactic acid. If you experienced unpleasant feelings such as muscle ache, nausea, and stomach pain from sore muscles, chances are there is too much acid building up in your bloodstream. This is only temporary and you will build up your strength as you exercise.
  • Fear and depression: When you are upset or depressed it is only natural that pain seems worse. Try using mindfulness techniques such as focusing on the solution rather than the problem, try to relax and use breathing techniques when you are upset to help deal with the pain.

For many people with arthritis, walking or exercising may present temporary discomfort. One should realize that, in the beginning, exercise isn’t always pain-free. You may experience the following:

  • Knee, hip, and ankle discomfort during and after walking.
  • Some cramping in your muscles.
  • Muscle soreness in your thighs and calves after walking.

The surface on which you exercise or walk has much to do with the amount of pain you experience after exercising. When you begin a walking routine, make sure you pick a good flat and firm surface such as sidewalks, fitness trails, schools and shopping malls. As you progress in ability, try some slight inclines and smooth surfaces. Eventually, you will be able to take a hike on uneven terrain.

Try different solutions to minimize the discomfort while exercising. Some suggestions are:

  • Use a walking stick or cane (in Michigan an old ski pole can work well). 
  • Maintain your weight! Being overweight aggravates your joints, but walking will help control your weight.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about orthotic inserts or shoes. Some insurances will take care of the cost.

Always try a different solution to minimize pain if one approach doesn’t work. Exercise, and especially walking, will help you feel much better! 

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