Arthritis Workout

Arthritis is a painful condition characterized by swollen and inflamed joints. There are over one hundred types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis as we age. It is caused by “wear and tear” of the joints and is a degenerative joint disease. It involves the wearing away of cartilage, the covering on the ends of bones where they come together to form joints. If the cartilage is completely worn away, it can result in painful bone-on-bone contact, causing restricted movement.

X-ray adult's hand with multiple arthritis
X-ray adult’s hand with multiple arthritis
Arthritis can make everyday life very difficult. Even the simple act of walking can be a challenge when the joints are stiff and swollen. When it is painful to move, it can be tempting to rest and refrain from moving. Unfortunately, this will only worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Gentle exercise, especially some types of yoga, can be beneficial in easing the troublesome symptoms of arthritis. Circular movements help the ball-and-socket joints relieve stiffness. They increase synovial fluid, which reduces friction between the cartilage of joints during movement, to nourish the joints. Gentle, circular movements help circulate blood to ligaments, tendons and muscles.

The “Arthritis Workout” for the joints can be helpful in lubricating the joints, reducing stiffness and circulating synovial fluid. Because it is done in a chair, it is accessible to everyone. It should be done in a sturdy, armless chair that will not tip over. Sit up straight with the feet hip width apart. You may hear a popping or clicking sound as you move your joints, but you should not feel pain. If your joint is inflamed, move it very gently and cautiously until the pain and swelling have subsided. Gentle movements help the healing process by circulating blood to the ligaments, tendons and muscles and circulate synovial fluid to nourish the cartilage. If you have replaced joints, you may wish to check with your doctor. Breathe smoothly throughout the exercise.

  1. Ankles
    Lift the right leg and circle the ankle 8 to 10 times, then reverse direction, again 8 to 10 times. Repeat with the left leg.
  2. Knees
    Hold under the right knee, make circles with the lower leg, then reverse direction, 8 to 10 times each. Repeat with the left knee.
  3. Hips
    Place your hand on your knee and roll the hips in a circular motion, then reverse direction, 8 to 10 times.
  4. Wrists
    Hold your arms out in front of you and circle the wrists, 8 to 10 times in both directions.
  5. Fingers
    Bring each finger to the thumb and release. With your other hand, move each finger in a circular motion, then reverse direction, 8 to 10 times.
  6. Elbows
    Bring your right arm to a 90-degree angle and hold under your elbow. Start to circle your arm as if you are drawing circles in the air, then reverse direction, 8 to 10 times each. Repeat with the left arm.
  7. Shoulders
    For increased relaxation, you may link your breath with your movement in what is known as “vinyasa”. Inhale as you bring your shoulders forward and up and exhale as you bring them back and down. Repeat 8 to 10 times, then reverse direction, inhaling as you bring the shoulders back and up and exhaling as you bring them forward and down.
  8. Neck
    Again, for increased relaxation, you may link breath to movement. Drop your chin to your chest and inhale as you bring your chin to your right shoulder and exhale back to center. Inhale your chin to your left shoulder and exhale back to center. Repeat 4 to 5 times. Slowly raise your head.

This workout is easy to remember as it starts with the ankles and works every joint up to the neck.

Because arthritis in the hands and fingers can be especially troublesome and make everyday tasks such as buttoning and unbuttoning clothing and opening jars very difficult, here are some additional hand exercises.

  • Playing the piano. Play an imaginary piano and remember to move your thumbs also.
  • Close your hand, making a fist, then open the hand, stretching the fingers wide.
  • Opening flower. Press your hands together. Keeping the thumbs and pinkies together, open the three middle fingers several times, as if a flower were opening.
  • Massage the finger joints, then pull on the fingers to release the air.

Yoga is especially helpful for those suffering with arthritis. The focus on the breath and relaxation can help reduce joint pain, increase flexibility and improve sleep. Yoga helps build muscle strength and improves balance and range of motion. Chair Yoga and Iyengar Yoga, which uses blocks, belts and other props, are recommended. More vigorous styles of yoga, such as Power Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga, should be avoided.

As a yoga teacher, I have seen the improvement in the quality of life for my students with yoga and the arthritis workout. Students have said they are able to knit and crochet more easily since doing the hand exercises. Another student says the exercises “keep her moving!” My students repeatedly tell me these simple exercises greatly enhance their daily life.

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