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Stretches & Exercises to Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

While many people think exercise can aggravate the joints, studies have actually shown that exercising helps reduce pain and fatigue, increase flexibility of motion and strength, and alleviate rheumatism.


Exercising helps

A Finnish study showed that in the early stages of rheumatoid polyarthritis, the right amount of strength training supervised by a specialist relieved pain by 67% and reduced inflammation and cartilage destruction by 50%. The positive effects of the training remained up to three years after training ended.

Before beginning an exercise program, it’s important to consult your doctor to find an appropriate exercise program for you.

Low-impact aerobic exercises to strengthen your heart and lungs

Certain exercises also build endurance and strong bones: stair climbing, walking, dancing and cycling, as well as low-impact cardio machines, such as an elliptical trainer.

Start by exercising a few minutes each day, extending the duration of your workout gradually over time. Aim to exercise at a moderate pace for 30 to 60 minutes at a stretch, daily if possible.


to improve the condition of joints without putting excess stress on them:
Start slowly in a heated pool. Use a kickboard to get used to moving in the water. Gradually build to a goal of swimming 30 minutes at a time.

to make your muscles stronger so they can better support your joints:
Stronger muscles decrease joint pain by better supporting the joints. Include resistance exercises two to three times a week to improve muscle strength and mobility. Use elastic bands, free weights (even water bottles or a tin can) or machines for resistance.

Stretching exercises

to keep your muscles flexible and joints moving freely:
To relieve pain and stiffness, use moist heat or warm baths before and after stretching exercises. Warm up with light aerobic exercise such as walking for 10 minutes before stretching to decrease the risk of injury. Hold stretches for 30 seconds without bouncing or jerking.

Stretch your fingers

Close your fingers, making a fist. Then open and extend your fingers as straight as possible. Repeat this exercise, gradually increasing up to 20 times, twice daily.

Hip rotation

Sit or lie on your back on the floor or on a bed, feet slightly apart. With your legs and knees straight, turn your knees in toward each other and touch the toes of your feet together, holding for five seconds. Next turn your legs and knees out and hold for five seconds. Repeat this, gradually increasing up to five, 10, and then 20 repetitions, twice daily.

Flexible feet

Facing the wall, place palms flat on the wall, one foot forward and one foot back. Leaving your heels on the floor, lean forward. As you do so, feel the pull in the calf of your back leg and the achilles tendon at the back of your ankle. Hold for 30 seconds. Do three reps. Then alternate the position of your legs and repeat.

Hot or cold: What’s right for you?

Generally speaking, in cases of acute inflammation, cold is what’s called for, whereas for chronic inflammation of the joints, heat will usually improve the situation.

Heat soothes

Heat soothes pain, speeds metabolism, improves blood flow, relaxes muscles and improves connective tissue’s ability to stretch. While people suffering from rheumatism often feel better when living in a warmer climate, other sources of heat can be just as beneficial. Although the effects of heat are noticeable relatively quickly, only consistent application of heat will yield a lasting effect. Physical sources of heat include:

  • spa or sauna  
  • warm mud wrap  
  • heating pad

Cold also eases pain

When a joint shows signs of acute inflammation, such as redness and swelling, cold is one of the best ways to reduce these symptoms. Treatments involving cold (temperatures between -18°C and +15°C) may include:

  • immersing the painful area in cool or ice-cold water
  • intermittently applying ice
  • applying a frozen face cloth or an ice pack, whether from the freezer or the fridge

The duration of treatment affects the body’s reaction

  • Briefly applying cold causes vascular reactions—the blood vessels constrict and then dilate. 
  • Applying cold for longer periods (up to 20 minutes on the bigger joints) relaxes muscles and improves mobility while slowing blood circulation and local metabolism.

If applying cold causes pain or discomfort, stop applying it immediately.

How to make a frozen face cloth

Dip a terry face cloth in cold water in which you have dissolved three to four tablespoons of sea salt. Wring out the cloth and place in the freezer. It should reach a temperature of between 0°C and -15°C without stiffening up, so that it will conform to your body’s curves. Application time: three to four minutes. To reach deep tissue layers, apply for between 10 and 20 minutes.

Did you know?

Being active “feeds” the joints. Cartilage needs joint movement in order to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste.  

What do you think?

Have you found what you read useful? If so, I would love if you would leave your comment below. Thanks Sonia Chartier

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