Reality Check: You shouldn’t do strength Training with Arthritis?

Has your life stopped after arthritis? We understand your condition. Soreness and stiffness in joints can leave you miserable. Thus they restrict their involvement in every physical activity. No running or long walks; and strength training — don’t even think about it. But does it help after all? Let’s see what physiotherapists say about it.
Swatik Mahendra, M.P.T. Sports, and Clinical Biomechanics and M.Sc. Sports Biomechanics (UK) says, “People with arthritis should engage in physical activity as it helps delay the progress of the condition. Since, the condition is more prominent in the weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, ankles, and spine, strengthening them is  essential to maintain a good quality of life. Working out can help you replenish synovial fluid and reduce the friction in the joints or grinding of joint surfaces. This solves the main cause of pain and stiffness in arthritis.”
Not only this, exercise can help you manage arthritis and have a fulfilling life. Though unbelievable, studies have shown that strength training and lifting weights can decrease pain and increase joints’ strength to become more functional with arthritis. But before that, it is important to identify the type of arthritis you are suffering from. 

Types of Arthritis

Arthritis can be classified into two types:  Inflammatory Arthritis and Non-Inflammatory Arthritis. Some of the most common arthritis types are:
Osteoarthritis: Also known as Osteoarthrosis, OA is the most common degenerative joint disease. It affects 13.9% of adults aged 25 years and 33.6% of older adults aged 65 and older. The condition causes localized degeneration of the articular cartilage and new bone synthesis at the joint surfaces or margins. A person aged between 25-75 and with a history of inflammatory arthritis, joint trauma, obesity, bone or joint disorders, and genetic mutation of collagen is at more risk of getting OA. It affects fewer joints and can be asymmetrical.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: It is an auto-immune, chronic, inflammatory, systemic disease primarily affecting the synovial lining of joints and other connective tissue. Its characteristics include a fluctuating course with periods of active disease and remission. Its symptoms vary from mild aching of joints and stiffness to abrupt swelling, stiffness to progressive deformity. RA affects people in the age group 15-50 and may develop suddenly within weeks to months. It usually affects several joints bilaterally.

Gout: Gout is inflammatory-type arthritis that is characterized by swollen joints. It typically affects the big toe and can affect other joints in the body. One of the most common symptoms of gout is the affected joint will turn red and hot. This will also make your skin peel and look shiny. The condition is caused due to an increase of uric acid in the body. The condition can be genetically inherited. The forming of urate crystals is common in people when the uric acid level is high.

The benefits of strength training

A review of 8 studies done on older adults with osteoarthritis found that strength training can help reduce pain by 35%. The studies also revealed that strength training can increase the lower limb strength in people with arthritis by 33%.

How is strength training doing it?

It is commonly seen that people with arthritis reduce their physical activity level significantly; this gives rise to many other problems, including an increase in their weight. Your lower limb body needs strength to function with the weight you have gained, but sadly, it is already weak due to arthritis. You are merely worsening your condition by reducing your physical activity.

Scientifically, resistance training helps you increase strength in your weight-bearing joints. Moreover, it has a significant advantage over cardio when it comes to weight management. Apart from people with osteoarthritis, strength training can work wonders for people suffering from other types of arthritic joint conditions. How? In 2 years of a study done on people with arthritis, strength training increased muscle strength through systematic strength training to about 59%. It increases muscle strength around joints, which is vital to reduce the stress around joints that will otherwise lead to more wear and tear.

Why you need to systemize your strength training with Arthritic joints?

You are required to work with your physiotherapist to design a fitness plan. Since strength training for people with arthritis is more inclined towards pain reduction, rehabilitation of strength, improved functionality, and maintaining the newfound strength to improve life quality, you are recommended to not start working out without seeking expert opinion.

Here is how generally a strength training fitness plan looks like, specifically designed for an arthritis patient.

1. Improvement in the range of motion/mobility: In general, an arthritic person will be exposed to isometric strength training, which is used to increase muscle contractions but does not affect the muscle length. With exercise, the therapist tries to increase the strength in the muscles; without any need to move painful joints.

2. Strengthening and rehabilitation of muscles: Next, start strength training with non-weight bearing exercises. This includes:

a. Concentric movements: Movements that are controlled and done to shorten muscles.

b. Eccentric movements: Exercises done for lengthening muscles and are more controlled and help improve stability.

3. Combination Exercises: Once your muscles have become functional and ready for weight-bearing exercises, the following exercises can be done:

a. Bodyweight training: Push-ups, body-weight squats, pull-ups, Bulgarian split squats, and other internal-load exercises.

b. Free weight training: Squats with barbells, lunges, deadlifts, box step-up, and other external load exercises.

4. Balancing and Retention of Strength: Balancing exercises are done to improve your posture, preventing falls, and retaining strength. They greatly help in improving your condition and increase your physical activity level.

Important things to follow

1. The exercise regime should include low-intensity warm-up, regular cool-down period, flexibility training.

2. All exercises should be done as per the FIIT principle

3. Exercises should be done with low to moderate intensity ranging between 50-80%. For a person to workout above this intensity, the person has to be clinically asymptomatic.

4. Avoid vigorous physical activity if there is an acutely inflamed joint.

5. Progression of exercise can be at a maximum of 10% per week or up to the point of pain tolerance.

Bottom Line

When done in the right way, strength training can help you regain strength in your arthritic joints. It can help you regain strength in the muscles around the affected joint and help you improve your posture, perform physical tasks, and enhance life quality.

2 Thoughts to “Reality Check: You shouldn’t do strength Training with Arthritis?”

  1. gk

    stratfit you always educate us with you knowledge and I am Grateful to your article, thank you.

  2. gk

    Great article from you, thank you stratfit

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