Five Natural Ways to Relieve Arthritis Pain
Walking, yoga, water therapy and other exercise can reduce aches and help restore mobility
When you’re suffering from the aches of arthritis, exercise may be one of the last things you may want to do. But researchers and experts agree that one of the best ways to ease arthritis pain is to keep moving.
Numerous studies show motion helps keep joints flexible and strengthens the muscles around them, reducing pain and helping prevent further damage.
It’s also free or low cost, involves no medications and no side effects. Low-impact exercise delivers benefits without damage. Mild exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which in turn helps keep arthritis pain at bay. A bonus: Studies show exercise is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
“If you want to maintain your independence as well as your fitness, it’s important to exercise regularly,” says Linda Russell, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and chair of its public and patient education committee. ”Even mild exercises can strength the muscles around the joints, reducing pain and stiffness and preserving function.”
Her best advice: “Find the right exercise that doesn’t hurt — and do it.”
Here are five easy ways to work out those joints without going overboard.
1. Walk it out. When lower limb arthritis is mild to moderate, walking is a great way to preserve joints, strengthen muscles and mobility and even boost your mood, according to numerous studies. A 2014 study published in the medical journal Arthritis Care and Research found that walking 6,000 steps a day or more helped protect against loss of mobility in people with osteoarthritis (OA) and those at risk of developing it.
Experts suggest investing in good, supportive walking or running shoes and keeping to level, obstacle-free areas. Note: a slight ache is normal during weight-bearing exercise, but if the pain is sudden and sharp, you should wait to exercise until it goes away. If the pain of advanced arthritis interferes, try walking in water.
2. Dance the pain away. Dance can offer a full body workout, relieve stress and add a new joy to your life. The pleasure of dance outweighs the pain of movement for many, especially for those with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. A small study by researchers at Laval University in Quebec found people with rheumatoid arthritis who participated in dance-based exercise reduced their depression, anxiety, fatigue and tension and improved their mobility and joint pain.
The caveat: Some dance moves might put too much stress on joints for those with lower limb arthritis. Avoid extreme movements, keep it mellow and smooth and let the music carry you.
3. Try tai chi. Good for mind and body, this ancient martial art improves balance as it works your joints and muscles: An Australian study found weekly participation in tai chi classes reduced the risk of falls by as much as 70 percent. Another study found the “Tai Chi for Arthritis” program significantly improved function and pain. Devised by physician Paul Lam, MD, to treat his own osteoarthritis, this gentle tai chi program is endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation and available on DVD. Be sure to talk to the instructor about your mobility or pain issues. Lam’s DVD “Tai Chi for Arthritis” and other information are available on his website.
4. Explore yoga for your brain and body. Even older than tai chi, yoga (which means to unite, or yoke) has been shown to lower stress and help with muscle strength, flexibility and chronic arthritis pain, according to the Johns Hopkins University Arthritis Center.
Yoga also helps improve range of motion and circulation for people with arthritis, says certified yoga therapist and long-time instructor Jennifer Sadugor of Yoga Solution in Sacramento. In addition, “the pain relief can elevate mood and help relieve stress and depression,” she says.
Sadugor says it’s best to start with a beginner’s class from a certified teacher and to tell the instructor about any limitations or pain. Yoga Journal has a wealth of resources about teachers for people with arthritis. For severe arthritis, a yoga therapist can be helpful and give one-on-one instruction.
5. Take the water cure. When everything seems too much, submerge those joints in the warm water of a spa or a pool — and work out there. Aerobics is lot easier when water makes you weightless. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water therapy helps improve use of affected joints without worsening symptoms. People with rheumatoid arthritis have seen more health improvements after participating in hydrotherapy than in any other activity, the CDC notes.
Does water therapy work? Research suggests that it does. In a study published in the journal Physical Therapy, volunteers who participated in a 6-week aquatic therapy study reported a 72 percent improvement in pain and a 75 percent improvement in mobility, strength and flexibility, compared to 17 percent of the participants who didn’t do water therapy. This finding was underscored by a 2014 analysis in Physical Therapy, which reviewed 11 studies on arthritis and aquatic therapy and concluded that water exercise was an effective treatment for hip and knee osteoarthritis. (If you have an aging pooch with arthritis, he or she may even benefit from water therapy for dogs.)
Most gyms with pools and many recreational centers and YMCAs offer aquatic therapy classes. If you have trouble getting into the pool, some are equipped with lifts to help you in and out of the water.
As always, consult your doctor before embarking on an exercise routine. Start slow. If it hurts, pay attention: Some muscle pain is normal, but it should ease after a day or two. Try getting some more sleep, too — that can also help with pain. With more zzzzs and exercise, you may soon find that pain is no longer front and center in your life.