Exercise can be a major part of an arthritis management plan. As the musculoskeletal system works as a unit, strengthening the muscles can clearly help compensate for activity limitations imposed by an arthritic joint. The benefits of exercise are several fold. There are the specific gains in function relative to the affected joint being addressed, and there is additionally the effect on general health and well-being.
Local strengthening exercises have a clear role in decreasing pain and improving activity level in knee arthritis, which is the best studied joint. Muscle strengthening programs can improve many activities such as increased walking distance and walking speed, as well as improved range of motion of the knee. Another specific benefit of regular exercise which has been consistently described is self efficacy, which is the belief in one?s competence and ability to accomplish goals, and has been linked to improved satisfaction and increased accomplishments.
Exercise has multiple benefits, and in particular, when included in a multimodal program which also includes diet and weight reduction, is a great way to improve function and decrease pain while improving multiple performance measures. Although concern about the negative effect of exercise on an arthritic joint has clearly limited some arthritis patients from pursuing an exercise regimen, in fact, habitually active people with arthritis are less likely to suffer from joint pain and stiffness.
The current recommendations of the Arthritis Foundation provide useful guidance for people interested in pursuing an exercise regimen, and are available through the Foundation website: https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/.
Dr. Susan Goodman is a rheumatologist and internist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She specializes in the treatment of rheumatic disease using such procedures as arthrocentesis, intra-articular injections, and soft tissue injections.