Whether your joint pain is from injury or inflammation, rehabilitation through exercise is key because not only does it strengthen your joints, but it increases your flexibility which is important in order to increase and maintain your range of motion.
If you regularly experience joint pain then the thought of exercise and movement can be off-putting, especially if you’re worried that you might injure yourself or cause damage; but the longer you avoid exercise and stretching, the stiffer your joints could get in the long term, making it even more difficult to get up and go. Keeping hydrated, improving flexibility and increasing movement helps synovial fluid become thicker and more cushioning; meaning joints will slide easily when you move, rather than grind.
A review of several studies found that regular exercise has the potential to help reduce chronic pain and improve quality of life, as well as general physical function.1 Peeler and Ripat’s 2018 study2 found that after a 12-week exercise intervention, acute knee pain diminished significantly, enhancing the participants ability to carry out day to day activity and quality of life; as well as the ability to perform daily activities that the patient’s deemed as important, yet hard to perform.
Improve your mood
The positive effects of exercise don’t stop at the physical; it’s shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress.3 Boosting your mood through exercise and activity is due to increasing brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin, norepinephrine and increase the production of endorphins; all of which aid in relieving feelings of depression, produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.4
Alongside the studies that show exercise improves mood; others also show that it doesn’t matter how intense the work out is, but rather it can lift your mood no matter how much power is put into the routine.5 One study focussed on men and women who regularly exercised; they were monitored for two weeks on no exercise and found that they experienced increases in negative mood.6
While your body naturally produces glucosamine and chondroitin, as you get older your levels of these begins to drop which leads to the gradual breakdown of the joint. Many people choose to supplement glucosamine and chondroitin with added vitamin C and MSM to contribute normal collagen formation for the function of bones and cartilage. Studies have investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of glucosamine, so it may be beneficial for those who are looking to support their joint health.7 Although as yet, there is mixed evidence to support. Always research thoroughly and make a decision that is right for you.
What exercise is best?
Although sometimes your get up and go has got up and gone, it’s important to try to aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week – broken down this is around 30 minutes a day, across 5 days. Sometimes a walk may be all you want to do, but other activities that are joint-friendly are yoga, Pilates, swimming and resistance work; these will promote flexibility, making movement more comfortable day to day.
Walking between 30 and 60 minutes daily can bring all sorts of health benefits, especially making sure your bones stay strong. Walking helps in a variety of ways, for instance it helps keeps your bones strong is by aiding in losing or maintaining the proper weight, which lessens stress on joints and improves arthritis symptoms; it also works almost all of the major muscle groups, making it easier to maintain motion, balance and posture.
A small study found that people who were assigned a walking regimen of three to four times a week generally had a better sense of well-being and self-efficacy in comparison to the people in the control group who did not walk.8
The best part about walking is it doesn’t require special equipment, or a gym membership and it’s completely free!
Yoga is valuable in a lot of different ways, not only for the exercise benefits but also promoting relaxation and stress reduction. Staying mobile keeps joints healthy as cartilage may be lost by immobilization.
The John Hopkins University in Baltimore conducted a study with 75 people who suffered from one of two types of arthritis, wherein participants were randomly assigned to either standard care or eight weeks of twice weekly yoga, plus a weekly practice session at home. Those taking part in the yoga sessions reported a 20% improvement in pain, energy levels, mood and physical function. Even 9 months later, improvements from the yoga sessions were still showing.9
Although a small study, Kolasinski10 found that subjects taking a 90-minute, modified Iyengar yoga class once a week for eight weeks reported significant reductions in pain, improvements in physical function and joint stiffness.
Pilates is like yoga in many of the movements and the affects it has on the participants, however unlike yoga, equipment can be introduced into the exercise. It especially stimulates the production of synovial fluid and enhancing lubrication at the joints – this can help prevent grinding and further damage being done.
The low-impact exercise is designed to stretch, strengthen and balance the body. Pilates focuses on balancing the core of your body to improve posture, you strengthen and stretch multiple muscle groups and joints which can help improve your range of motion, posture, flexibility, circulation and abdominal strength.
Research around Pilates focuses on improving lower back pain, however one study found that the exercise had a positive physical and psychosocial impact on health-related quality of life in the participants who suffered with juvenile idiopathic arthritis.11
Studies have shown that swimming is a highly effective type of exercise for calorie burning and soothing muscles – but it is also effective in improving joint pain and stiffness12. Burning calories can also be a great aid when it comes to improving joint pain as it’ll take some of the strain away – a 160lb person burns approximately 423 calories an hour while swimming laps at a low or moderate pace, swimming at a faster pace may burn up to 715 calories.
Research into swimming has also shown that it can boost your mood, help manage stress, and improve your sleep! This type of exercise works your entire body, insides and out; whilst being a cost-effective way to work out.
Strength training and building strong muscles helps to support and protect your joints. Whilst using weights can be intimidating, going slow and not putting too much pressure on yourself is important; don’t overdo it! It’s normal to be sore after exercising, especially if you haven’t been active for a while; just don’t train the same muscles two days in a row and make sure to give yourself rest days.
The Arthritis Foundation says that exercise increases production of endorphins that improve overall well-being, ability to control pain, and sleeping habits.
One study says that strength training improves mobility, simple functional tasks (like standing up from a chair), and self-rated daily function in older adults;13 another concludes that it has a significant benefit in improving strength and function in reducing pain.14
If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.