What kinds of exercise can I do if I have rheumatoid arthritis?
There are a number of misconceptions about the role of exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This article helps clarify what can and should be done if you have rheumatoid arthritis and are interested in exercise.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common inflammatory form of arthritis. It is caused by the immune system attacking the joints causing inflammation and joint destruction. This leads to pain, joint deformity, and disability over time. Along with this is a loss of both muscle mass as well as muscle strength.
To counteract this deterioration, it is important that patients with RA get involved in a regular exercise program.
There is no evidence that a well-designed exercise program will aggravate rheumatoid arthritis. And, with the recent data suggesting that rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of heart attack, regular aerobic exercise can help improve circulatory parameters as well.
The exercise should be started quickly… as soon as the diagnosis is made.
A number of well-designed studies have demonstrated that a regular exercise program can help patients with rheumatoid arthritis increase strength, improve aerobic fitness, and expand range-of-motion measures.
An exercise program needs to be custom tailored to a patient and needs to take into consideration such factors as age, overall health, and physical limitations. A physical therapist or physical medicine physician should be able to assist in the designing of a good program.
The program should outline the specific exercises as well as the intensity, duration, and optimal range of exercise.
An exercise program should comprise a non-impact aerobic form of exercise such as swimming, water aerobics, tai chi, a stationary bike, or an elliptical trainer. Strength training using resistance bands or light dumbbells is another component. Finally, gentle stretching is critical to an all round program.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland (http://www.aocm.org). He is Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and consultant to the National Institutes of Health. For more info: Arthritis Treatment