10 Ways to Stay Athletic With Psoriatic Arthritis

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

As a former high-school basketball and soccer player, and a rower at Florida Tech University, sports have always been an important part of my life. After my last psoriatic arthritis flare up, I hoped I wasn’t at the end of my athletic career. Happily for me, sports are still a major part of my life. I work out seven days a week, and more importantly, as the mother of two very active teen and young-adult sons, I want to keep up with them. Fortunately, with help from the right professionals, I've been able to remain active. Read on to learn how you, too, can continue nurturing your inner athlete despite psoriatic arthritis.

Eat Right

Experts recommend an anti-inflammatory diet to help fight the effects of a flare-up. “Rich in antioxidants and nutrient-dense, low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals, an anti-inflammatory diet can be a major component in reducing symptoms of inflammation,” says registered dietitian Eleanor Baker. Fill your shopping cart with fruits and veggies, including spinach, asparagus, blueberries, and pears. And don’t skimp on healthy fats like salmon, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and avocado.

Set Goals

One of the first things I did after my last joint flare-up was to set athletic goals for myself that felt out of reach at the time but that I still hoped to meet when I recovered. One was simply continuing to work out regularly. The second was bigger: to get my lifeguard certification. Goal-setting is part of a new approach to psoriatic treatment called treat-to-target, in which you and your healthcare provider work toward a set of shared goals. I shared mine with my rheumatologist so she and I could monitor my treatment in relation to those goals and make changes if needed. For me, the teamwork paid off: I earned my certification!

Trainer helping woman do push ups

Partner Up With a Certified Trainer

After a flare-up, you may not be able to jump right back into your previous exercise routine. A professional trainer may help you get your confidence in movement back. “Personal trainers with an understanding of their arthritic client's flare-ups will be able to proactively work around those tender areas,” says certified personal trainer Jonnie Jenkins. Trainers can recommend comfortable seated and standing positions for their clients that will help them regain their mobility, he says.

Fit woman lifting weights

Flex Your Muscles

According to the National Arthritis Foundation, strength training with weights, exercise bands, or weight machines is beneficial for people with psoriatic arthritis because strong muscles help to stabilize joints. While research is ongoing, one report published in Arthritis Care and Research in April 2019 showed that high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which often utilizes weights and bands, four times a week decreased the fatigue felt by study participants and didn’t worsen their psoriatic symptoms.

Woman in gym looking at phone with headphones on

Download Motivational Music, Clips, and Videos

The effort it takes to remain athletic with psoriatic arthritis will require mental as well as physical stamina. There were times after previous flare-ups that I sat on the couch and wondered how I’d be able to work out. I couldn’t even get up! I began listening to 30-minute motivational tapes every day, either before or during my workouts. They made a tremendous difference in my mood and outlook. Listen to whatever pumps you up and pushes you to get off the couch. This video was my personal favorite.

Watch Your Weight

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, the impact that body weight has on the severity of psoriasis patients’ symptoms is well established. Overweight or obese people with psoriasis experience more symptoms and may also have a reduced response to treatment. It may be hard to maintain a healthy weight if you cut back on exercise after flare-ups, but keeping your focus on nutrient-dense foods such as smoothies and reducing processed foods can be a big help.

Use Heat and Ice

You may require more daily maintenance to stay athletic than before you were diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. For example, to enhance circulation you may now use heat on stiff joints before your workouts. Heat boosts circulation, helping deliver nutrients to joints and muscles, according to the National Arthritis Foundation. After your workouts, you may need to apply ice to sore joints. For example, applying ice to the knee for 30 minutes has been shown to reduce arthritis pain. In order to protect your skin, wrap the ice in a towel before applying it to your joints.

Female runner stretching, close up

Keep Your Range of Motion

There were some days after my last flare-up during which the only exercise I could do was my stretching routine. Psoriatic arthritis can limit your mobility and range of motion over time. A daily stretching routine allowed me to keep a full range of motion in joints that were most affected. This video is a helpful guide to starting a stretching routine.

Runner at night taking break

Know—and Respect—Your Limits

You may have to return to your favorite sport slowly, especially after a flare-up. This might mean exercising for only five to 10 minutes a day or taking a day off to rest. Alex Radjen of the Cleveland Clinic Department of Rehabilitation & Sports Therapy recommends balancing rest with activity. “It’s important to stay active when you have psoriatic arthritis because activity keeps your joints and ligaments mobile, which in return helps reduce inflammation and pain,” she says. “Keep moving, but also listen to your body and know your limits!”

Close up of hand in meditation pose

Remain Patient

Keep in mind that, even if you’re on the right treatment plan, it may still take time to see results. Some treatments can take months to reach their full effect. By working closely with your healthcare team, staying hopeful, and taking exceptional care of yourself, you will be back to your sport before you know it.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.