Studies have shown that regular exercise has the potential to reduce pain and improve quality of life, as well as physical function.1 Rehabilitating your joints through exercise is fundamental because it increases your flexibility and range of motion, making it easier to move.
Exercise isn’t only key for flexibility and performing daily activities when you have arthritis, it’s shown to lift your mood and decrease negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety and stress.2
Using the pool as a way to exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do laps or swim. If you feel that it’s currently out of your range of motion, there are other exercises you can do, such as the following:
Swimming is a highly effective exercise for calorie burning and soothing muscles as well as improving joint pain and stiffness.3 Not only does it work all your muscle groups - due to its calorie burning effects, the exercise can aid in weight loss which takes some pressure off your joints. Swimming at a low or moderate pace for an hour could burn 400 or more calories.
Warm water is comfortable on the joints for those that suffer from pain, however, it’s not ideal for lap swimming as the heat may increase your blood pressure quicker than if a cooler pool was used.
You can find a stroke that suits you and your pain management needs. For instance, front crawl involves relatively straight leg movements and could be beneficial for those that struggle with hip or knee pain. Equipment like kickboards or pull buoys can help you modify your strokes and are available at most public pools to use.
This exercise is simple and easy on the joints. It involves standing waist to chest deep in the water and walking the way you would on the ground. Change it up by walking backwards or sideways to tone other muscles. When you’re feeling more confident with this exercise, increase the intensity by lifting your knees higher or creating an interval training routine by pumping your arms and legs faster for a brief period before returning to your normal pace, repeating the process several times.4
The water’s buoyancy supports the body’s weight, reducing pain and impact on joints. The Arthritis Foundation (4) says that working out in water can help improve cardiovascular fitness, balance and range of motion.
Water has greater resistance than air, meaning walking in water requires more effort and burns more calories than walking on land, though this doesn’t mean that it should be your only form of exercise as bone-building workouts should also be added to your routine out of the pool.
Aerobics is popular in and out of the water, however, when you’re waist to chest-deep in the pool it has low impact on joints. Most water aerobics is offered in group classes with a professionally trained instructor; these will range from focussing on range of motion with gentle stretching to intense aerobic conditioning and resistance training. You should choose an aerobics class that suits your current fitness level and goals.
In a study of water-based exercises in comparison to similar exercises on land, the majority of the participants found that they felt much better immediately after exercising in a heated pool.6
If you’re going to start water-based activities to help your arthritis, you should start small and build up your strength and confidence to avoid hurting yourself.
For more information on joint health, visit our advice centre where you’ll find plenty of helpful and accessible content.
Dr Sarah Brewer says, "When your joints ache, it’s natural to want to rest them, but regular exercise is vital to help maintain your joints’ range of movement, even if this is limited, and also helps to avoid muscle weakening and contractures. In fact, exercises designed to strengthen the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh appear to be as effective in reducing symptoms of knee osteoarthritis as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers." i
1 Geneen, L.J., Moore, A.R., Clarke, C., Martin, D., Colvin, L.A. and Smith, B.H., (2017). Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews.
2 Ensari, I., Sandroff, B.M. and Motl, R.W., (2016). Effects of single bouts of walking exercise and yoga on acute mood symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis. International journal of MS care, 18(1).
3 Alkatan, M., Baker, J.R., Machin, D.R., Park, W., Akkari, A.S., Pasha, E.P. and Tanaka, H., (2016). Improved function and reduced pain after swimming and cycling training in patients with osteoarthritis. The Journal of rheumatology, 43(3).
4 Arthritis.org. (2018). Water Exercises | Arthritis Exercise Arthritis Foundation.
6 Dagfinrud, H. and Christie, A., (2007). Patients with rheumatoid arthritis feel better after exercises in warm water than after similar exercises on land. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 53(2).
i Doi T, Akai M, Fujino K, Iwaya T, Kurosawa H, Hayashi K, Marui E (2008): Effect of home exercise of quadriceps on knee osteoarthritis compared with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 87(4).