Arthritis and Exercise: What to Do and Not Do

Arthritis and Exercise: What to Do and Not Do

Daily exercise is one of the best ways to stay physically fit and protect your mental wellness. When you have arthritis, exercise may not seem like an option because of the joint swelling and pain the disease causes.

At St. Michael’s Neurology and Pain Medicine in Houston, Texas, our board-certified neurologist Miguel Pappolla, MD, PhD, specializes in complete arthritis care to preserve the health and function of your joints. Dr. Pappolla and our team can help you find the pain relief you need to stay active and healthy.

Understanding arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints. While there are over 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common.


Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear disease that develops when the cartilage in your joints breaks down. The loss of cartilage allows the bones of the joint to rub together, creating friction, inflammation, and pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to mistakenly attack otherwise healthy joints. This attack triggers persistent swelling in the joints that can limit your range of motion and cause pain.

Symptoms of arthritis can progressively worsen and over time, arthritis conditions can lead to severe deformities in the structures of the joint. Without proper treatment, arthritis can become disabling.

How to exercise with arthritis

While those with arthritis may find exercise difficult because of stiff, painful joints, daily movement is one of the ways you can protect your joints and slow down the progression of the disease.

Before you start any new exercise routine, you should check in with your family physician ahead of time to ensure your safety. Here are some tips for what to do and what not to do when it comes to arthritis and exercise:

Don't do high-impact exercises

High-impact exercises can be jarring to your joints, especially if you have arthritis. Avoid intense exercises like running or jogging, rope jumping, and cardio exercises that require both of your feet to leave the floor.

Do engage in low-impact activities

There are plenty of low-impact exercises you can do to stay healthy without aggravating your joints. Take daily walks, ride a stationary bike, or participate in gentle yoga exercises.

Don't do too much at first

If you’re just starting an exercise program to improve arthritis symptoms, don’t go too fast or too hard. Start your exercise routine slowly and gradually increase the time you spend exercising.

Doing too much too fast can increase joint pain and swelling and make future exercise painful.

Do work out on flat surfaces

When you walk or play low-impact sports, be sure to be mindful of the surface you’re on. Opt for flat surfaces that don’t have tree roots and other obstacles you can trip over.

Uneven surfaces can be jarring to any of your joints, especially your ankles, feet, and knees.

Don't keep pushing through the pain

If you experience sudden or intense pain during certain movements or exercise routines, stop immediately.

Pushing yourself too hard increases your risk for arthritis complications and other types of injuries that affect your mobility.

Do consider aquatic exercises

If you’re limited in what you can do physically because of moderate to severe joint pain, you may find working out in a pool to be easier on your joints.

Water aerobics and swimming are great options for people limited by pain who can’t work out on hard surfaces. Exercising in water is gentler on your joints and provides plenty of resistance to help strengthen and tone your body.

If you’re limited by arthritis, call St. Michael’s Neurology and Pain Medicine at 713-369-5925 to schedule a pain management consultation or book an appointment online today.

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