Arthritis exercises

If you're suffering from arthritis pain, the last thing you may want to do is exercise. But studies have shown that exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness and increase flexibility, strength and endurance.

But before you go out and join a gym or enter a triathlon, discuss a planned programme with your doctor.

To begin, though, some simple stretching exercises will help keep your joints moving, particularly those joints that are affected by arthritis. These involve gentle bending and straightening and should improve your flexibility.

You should try these every 2 days, although you can do them every day, but take it slowly. One to 2 hours seems to be the agreed ‘pain limit’ for pain to last after exercise, and if it's any longer than that, check with your doctor.

Basic exercises

  • Neck bend
  • Neck turn
  • Shoulder circles
  • Forward arm lift
  • Elbow bend
  • Wrist bend
  • Finger tuck
  • Finger touch
  • Side bend
  • Hip swing
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Ankle circles
  • Foot roll
neck bend

Neck bend

Make sure that your head is centred. Now, keeping your eyes straight ahead, lower your head towards your left shoulder, then back to the centre. Repeat slowly to the right side, and then bring your head back up to the centre, all the time keeping your eyes straight ahead.

neck turn

Neck turn

Make sure your head is centred. Slowly and gently, turn your head to the left and look over your shoulder. Don't strain, go as far as you can without too much discomfort. Then turn your head to the right and look over your right shoulder, and then back to the centre.

shoulder circles

Shoulder circles

Relax your shoulders and arms. Let your arms hang at your side. Slowly roll your left shoulder forward, then down and around to complete a circle, first clockwise, then anti-clockwise. Repeat with your right shoulder. Then do both shoulders together.

arm lift

Forward arm lift

Relax shoulders and arms. Let your arms hang at your side. Slowly lift your arms up and back towards your head as far as you can without pain, keeping them straight at the elbow. Now lower gently back down to your sides.

elbow bend

Elbow bend

Relax shoulders and arms. Let your arms hang at your side. Very slowly and gently, raise your forearm to the front, bending at the elbow until your hand touches your shoulder. Lower back to your side. Repeat with the other arm.

wrist bend

Wrist bend

Relax shoulders and arms. Let your arms hang at your side. Slowly bring your left arm up, bending it at the elbow and keeping your elbow tucked into your side until it is horizontal to the floor. Hold the top of your forearm with your other hand to keep it steady. Bending at the wrist, bring your hand toward you, then away from you (a slow, stretching wave movement). Repeat with the right arm.

finger tuck

Finger tuck

Holding your hand up, with fingers straight as if it were pointing to 12 o'clock, slowly and gently bend your fingers only, as though you were waving only with your fingers. Then slowly bend the fingertips down, tucking them into the hand. Then back open again. Repeat with the other hand.

finger touch

Finger touch

Using your other hand to keep your wrist steady, form the letter ‘O’ by touching your index fingertip with your thumb. Repeat with each finger, then repeat with the other hand.

side bend

Side bend

Make sure that your head is centred. Now, keeping your eyes straight ahead, stand with your feet apart. Bring your right arm up and over your head to the left. Lean into the exercise, letting your left hand slide down your left leg. Then back to the centre and repeat with your left arm. Try not to lean forward or let your head move forward.

hip swing

Hip swing

For this one, use a chair or handrail to keep you steady. Holding lightly onto the back of the chair, slowly swing one leg forward, back to the centre and then towards the back. Try to make the movement come from the hip and not the knee. Try to keep your back straight. Repeat with the other leg.

hamstring stretch

Hamstring stretch

You'll need to sit down for this one. Bring yourself forward until you are sitting on the edge of your chair, then straighten your leg and prop your heel either on the floor or on another chair. Slowly, stretch forward from the waist keeping your back straight, until you feel a gentle tug along the back of your leg. Hold the position for about 15 seconds to half a minute, and then repeat with the other leg.

ankle circles

Ankle circles

For this one, sit up straight in a chair, lift your leg and straighten it. Slowly draw a forward, then a backward circle in the air with your toe. Repeat with the other leg.

foot roll

Foot roll

You can do this one sitting down or standing up. If you are standing up, make sure you hold on to something, such as the back of a chair, for balance. You can use a small, rolled up towel or something similar. Place it under the arch of your foot and slowly roll backwards and forwards.

Last Reviewed: 23 August 2009
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myDr

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