Patient education: Arthritis and exercise (The Basics)

What exercises can help with different kinds of arthritis? Certain exercises can help with different kinds of arthritis and different symptoms. For osteoarthritis and most other types of arthritis, it’s important to move your joints every day, even if they hurt. For example, you should try to bend and straighten your knees a few times a day, even if you have arthritis pain in your knees.

To help reduce stiffness in the morning, try these exercises before going to sleep:

Sit or stand. Look straight ahead. Slowly tilt the head toward the right shoulder until you feel a stretch along the left side of the neck. Hold for 5 seconds. Straighten the neck then tilt the head towards the left shoulder. Hold for a count of 5. Repeat this sequence 10 times.

Lie on the back on a bed or on a towel on the floor. Bring knees up to chest. Place the hands behind the knees and pull toward the chest until you feel a stretch in the lower back and buttocks. Hold for 5 seconds. Rest. Repeat 10 times.

The hamstrings are the muscles in the back of the thigh, just above the back of the knee. To stretch them, you will need a stable stool that does not roll (or a stair) that is about knee height. Place hands on hips. Place the right heel on top of the stool, keeping the leg straight. Bend the left leg and slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of the right leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Rest. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs and repeat 10 times with the left leg on the stool or stair.

The gastrocnemius muscles are the two muscles in the upper calf, just below the back of the knee. To stretch them, stand 18 to 24 inches away from a wall (facing the wall). Place hands on wall at head level. Bend left knee and move right foot about 12 inches backwards. Keep right leg straight and keep heel on the floor. Lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the right calf (this should not hurt); do not bounce. Hold for a count of 10. Rest. Repeat 10 times with each leg.

To help with hand and wrist symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, try these hand and wrist exercises:

Hold left arm straight out in front of the body, with the palm facing down. Using the right hand, grasp the left hand and gently bend hand downward until you feel a stretch in the left forearm. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times, then switch hands and repeat 10 times with the right hand.

Hold both hands with fingers pointing toward ceiling. Roll tips of all fingers down slowly to make a fist. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax fingers. Repeat 10 times

To help with back and hip symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis, try these back and hip exercises:

Lie face down on a towel or blanket on the floor. Extend hands in front of the body. Lift the arms and upper body away from the floor. Hips should stay in contact with the floor. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Rest. Repeat 10 times

Place left foot onto a step, then step up with right foot. Move left foot back down to floor then step down with right. Repeat this sequence 10 times then change order of feet (step first with the left, followed by the right); this is one set. Perform three sets.

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