Joint-Friendly Flexibility Moves for Psoriatic Arthritis

by Elizabeth Millard Health Writer

When your body is aching from psoriatic arthritis (PsA), of course it's tempting to do less. You're in pain! But with PsA, it's important to think of movement as balm: You might be uncomfortable as you begin to do more activities, but they’ll pay off over time with lower inflammation, better joint function, and increased mobility. And, yes, less discomfort, too. We've got some options to get you started.

young woman reaching her arms up stretching in bed
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1. Stretch in the Sack

Mornings can feel particularly challenging for anyone with psoriatic arthritis (or joint issues in general), says Orrin Troum, M.D., rheumatologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. The key is to do some stretches before you even step foot out of bed: Stretch your arms overhead, then gently twist from side to loosen the spine. Next, bring your arms down and pull your knees in toward your chest as if you’re wrapping yourself into a ball. Hold for a few seconds before slowly releasing. Repeat as needed.

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2. Open Up (Your Hips) at Work

Another cause of stiffening joints is sitting, but you can use that idle time to your advantage. Try this easy hip stretch to alleviate discomfort: Sit on the edge of a chair with feet flat on the floor and back straight. Place your right ankle on your left thigh, so you’re in a “figure 4” position. Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you lean forward a few inches, keeping your back flat. Release and repeat on the other side.

3. Relieve Your Feet

Yep, you can totally stretch your feet! Dr. Troum suggests doing regular stretches throughout the day, and especially if you’ve been sitting for a few hours. Before getting up, try this quick routine: Point and flex your feet, do some ankle circles in each direction, spread your toes out and back in, then curl your toes down as if you’re trying to pick up a pencil. These little movements really can make difference.

4. Give Yourself a Hand

Aching hands can benefit from gentle exercise, too. Start by slowly your wrists, making sure to stay within your range of motion. Then move on to curling each finger joint by joint until you have a loose fist. Straighten back out again and repeat. There are several other hand stretches to consider, but it’s also a good topic to bring up with your physical therapist, says Dr. Troum. Often, they have simple techniques that be particularly beneficial to your condition.

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5. Walk On

Walking is an excellent way to loosen up joints in the feet, ankles, knees, hips and—if you really get into it—a quick stroll can also benefit you shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Just be sure you’re wearing the right shoes for the job. If you're not already exercising regularly, Dr. Troum recommends starting with short distances or times. For example, you might walk just five minutes today and tomorrow. Then, add a few minutes for the days after that. Keep increasing your time and distance gradually.

woman doing lunges
Gesina Kunkel

6. Get Serious About Your Warm-ups

Before you walk, it’s important to do a dynamic warm-up first, says Sean Kuechenmeister, a certified athletic trainer at NY Sports Science Lab in Staten Island, NY, who specializes in rehab and sports medicine. This type of warm-up involves mimicking the activity you’re about to do. So for walking, start with a few minutes of lunges, being sure to stay within your range of motion, even if that means your lunges don’t have much “depth.” Even small lunges help prepare your body and especially your joints for the activity ahead.

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7. Check Your Posture

Slouching may feel easier but it's actually pretty tough on your body. In fact, poor posture can cause a ripple effect that may exacerbate psoriatic arthritis pain, says Devin Christman, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation, Allentown, PA. These are just two proper-posture habits he says to put in place: Keep your earlobes over your shoulders (avoid jutting your head too forward), and pull your shoulders down and back when sitting and standing. The American Chiropractic Association has more tips for getting yourself into alignment.

8. Join the Pool

Go ahead and treat yourself to a new swimsuit: According to a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, middle-aged and older adults with arthritis saw “significant reductions in joint pain, stiffness and physical limitation,” as well as an increased quality of life, when they participated in swim therapy for three months. Plus, as Dr. Troum adds, consistent, joint-friendly exercise like swimming can often reduce inflammation levels, which leads to pain relief. Who's ready to sign up?

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9. Om Away the Pain With Gentle Yoga

Although there are some forms of yoga—such as power yoga or classes involving hand weights—that may be too intense for those with psoriatic arthritis, keep in mind that there are many types that take a much slower, more joint-friendly approach. Look for options like beginning yoga, chair yoga, yin yoga, and gentle yoga. The controlled movements and deep breathing can help relax stiff muscles, which eases joint pain.

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10. Breathe Into It

Can you really breathe your way to joint pain relief? To some degree, the answer is yes. A study in Pain Medicine found that deep and slow breathing techniques resulted in differences in pain processing and perception. That means the breathing not only changed how the body reacted to pain, but participants reported feeling less pain overall, as well as a reduction in feelings like tension, anger, and depression. So, put some deep breathing into your routine, stretch regularly, and remember that movement can often be powerful medicine when it comes to psoriatic arthritis care.

Elizabeth Millard
Meet Our Writer
Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, MyFitnessPal, and WebMD, and she has worked on patient education materials for Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group. She’s also a registered yoga teacher and organic farmer.