Posted on: June 6, 2017 at 1:47 pm
Last updated: November 8, 2017 at 1:55 pm

This fantastic article was written by The Healthy Happy Coach, Joshua Graham (Fitness Expert and Nutritionist). Connect with him on Facebook at The Healthy Happy Coach .

Living with pain is something lots of us deal with on a day-to-day basis. That pain can come in many forms and, as we age, a lot of us will find our joints giving us issues. Joint pain can be caused by many different things, one of the most common reasons is arthritis – either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis both cause painful joints but the cause of each is different. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage inside of the joint breaks down, causing the bones to rub up against one another, leading to pain and inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which occurs when the body’s own immune system is overactive and starts to attack the synovium, the lining of the joints. As this continues to happen, the inflammation cause wearing of the joint. [1]

I have/used to have osteoarthritis in my lumbar spine. About three years ago I was working out and my back seized up. I went to a chiropractor and they did an adjustment that didn’t help. I went to a different chiropractor and they did an X-ray, revealing I had some arthritis in my lumbar spine. This was extremely unsettling to be told that at 25 I had spinal arthritis. I had to go back to the basics with my exercise program and adjusted my nutrition. What resulted was a complete reversal of my symptoms. I rarely get any lower back pain anymore!

Exercise as a Natural Remedy for Arthritis

Having painful joints makes the thought of going to the gym or exercising extremely off-putting. However, exercise can actually prove to be very beneficial for people who do suffer from arthritis. In fact, individuals with arthritis typically have very low fitness levels due to the avoidance of physical activity. [2] 


In this article, I will discuss the dos and the don’ts for exercising with arthritis.

Exercise Can Help Arthritis?

exercises for arthritis, arthritis remedies, natural pain relief athritis

Even though it can be a painful experience to start exercising with arthritis, it has been shown to be very useful in reducing the symptoms of arthritis. [3] When we move, we increase blood flow to the areas that are working. This increased blood flow also comes with an increase of nutrients to the area, which can help to flush metabolic waste and increase healing of the area. 

Our bodies are amazing things, and they work to conserve resources and energy as much as possible. One way this is done is by taking away our capacity to perform different movements if they are unnecessary. For example, as children, we are all born with amazing mobility in all our joints but you may have noticed you probably don’t have that same flexibility as an infant. This is due to our lack of expression of those ranges. The same thing holds true when it comes to arthritis. If we never move or use the joint, then our body will make it harder for us to use it. If we start to use that movement range, no matter how small or gently, it can improve our health.

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Think about sitting in a car for a long time or taking a long plane ride. Did you feel stiff or achy afterward? That is what happens but on a more pronounced scale if we go through our day to day lives avoiding movement and exercise.

Exercise can also help to improve body composition and aid in weight loss. This weight loss can help to lower the impact of the everyday activity on our joints. For example, if Jan has osteoarthritis in her left knee and was overweight by 20 pounds, then that is an extra 20lb of force being imparted onto her left knee every day. By losing those 20 pounds she would probably find her knee pain to be lower. Therefore, by exercising we can improve joint health by taking some of the everyday strain off of our body.

How To Avoid Injury When Exercising With Arthritis

While exercising – with arthritis or not – there are some precautions that should be taken before jumping into the deep end. If we are going from total inactivity to full blown intense exercise, it can have a detrimental effect and can cause injury. For example, if Joe hasn’t exercised for 15 years but wants to get back in shape and remembers his bench press personal best was 200 pounds, and he decides to try it on day one, Joe will probably end up injured.

When we are implementing any new exercise protocol, it is always best to start gradual and work our way up as we go. Remember, we need to learn to tread water before we hop in the deep end of the pool.


Speaking of pools, water-based exercise can be a fantastic way to start exercising with arthritis. Water exercise has been shown to improve strength and the symptoms of arthritis. If it has been a while since you’ve exercised and you have arthritis, find a water exercise class to start things off. Since our bodies are more buoyant in water, we are going to be placing less stress and pressure on our joints while still moving around and improving.

Exercises for Arthritis Management

As mentioned above, always start a training program slow and progressively increase intensity as you go. Our body’s do a wonderful job adapting to stressors placed upon us. If we are eating right and have a good lifestyle, then the positive adaptations will happen.

Studies have shown that resistance training, lower impact aerobic exercise (ie. swimming, biking, elliptical, walking) are all beneficial to arthritis. [4] Progressive resistance training is also extremely effective for helping to improve arthritis. [5] Progressive resistance training is increasing the weight or intensity of an exercise to help build strength and muscle mass. For example, doing 3 sets of 12 reps of bench press at 45 pounds this week, and then next time doing 50 pounds and on we go. In order for the body to continually adapt, we must continually stress it.

Even high-impact exercise has been shown to improve cartilage in mild osteoarthritis. In a study they had the participants start very small jumping only a couple inches then slowly building up the impact/increasing the intensity. This stimulated favorable effects on the cartilage quality and function in their knee with osteoarthritis. [6]


The key, if you have arthritis, is not to let it stop you from being active. Getting out and moving can really improve symptoms of arthritis. It can be scary to start a new exercise regime, especially if we are dealing with pain. That is why it is always a good idea to start slow and build up as we go along. If you are feeling like you need extra guidance, hire a trainer who can help to perfect your form, prevent any new issues or injuries from arising and put a program into place that will be effective and pain-free.


[1] Sources of Arthritis Pain. Accessed on May 16, 2017.

[2] Minor MA, et al. Exercise tolerance and disease-related measures in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology. Jun 1998; 15 (6): 905-911

[3] Strenstrom, CH. Home exercise in rheumatoid arthritis functional class II: goal setting versus pain attention. The Journal of Rheumatology. Apr 1994; 21 (4): 627-634.

[4] David J Hunter and Felix Eckstein. Exercise and Osteoarthritis. Journal of Anatomy. Feb 2009; 214 (2): 197-207.

[5] Jennifer K Cooney, et al. Benefits of Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Journal of Aging Research. 2011 doi:  10.4061/2011/681640

[6] Koli J, et al. Effects of Exercise on Patellar Cartilage in Women with Mild Knee Osteoarthritis. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. Sept 2015; 47 (9): 1767-74.

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Joshua Graham
Founder of The Happy Healthy Coach
Joshua Graham is The Happy Healthy Coach, fitness expert, nutritionist, and owner of Cocoon Health & Fitness. Cocoon provides fitness classes, a 6-week nutrition and lifestyle program, and meditations classes all in one membership (in-home or online)!

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