Feel-good Stretches for Psoriatic Arthritis
Stretching feels great on stiff, achy muscles. But if you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA), your muscles can be especially restricted—which can restrict your life. “When muscles tighten up, you may lose mobility to get around and assist in daily activities,” explains Katherine Wilson, D.P.T., a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. A feel-good stretching routine can relax shortened muscles, relieving pain and freeing up your body for all you want to do. It also helps ease the mental stress that can exacerbate symptoms. Let’s stretch!
How to Succeed at Stretching
Talk to your doctor about any specific muscle aches, mobility restrictions, and joint concerns you may have. Once you get the go-ahead to exercise, work the following stretches, courtesy of Wilson, into your daily routine. Try to perform three to four of the stretches each day, prioritizing ones that address joints or muscle groups that feel particularly tight or achy. Doing them first thing in the morning can maximize mobility for the day, says Alexander Geevarghese, D.O., a rheumatologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, IL. And remember: Be gentle. Never push to the point of pain.
At the base of your lower back sits the sacroiliac (SI) joint, which connects your spine to your pelvis. PsA can cause it to become tight and restricted, Dr. Geevarghese says. Stretching your hamstrings, then, which also connect to your pelvis, can help. Lie on your back with one foot on the floor and lift the other up in the air. Place the middle of a strap, towel, or belt beneath your elevated foot. Gently pull through the strap to extend your foot toward the ceiling, straightening your knee and leg as much as you find comfortable. Do three 15- to 30-second holds per leg.
Walk strong: Stretching the calves can help the ankles access their full range of motion for better, less prone-to-falling mechanics, according to Wilson. Stand at the edge of a step with your heels hanging off of it as you hold the handrail for support. Keeping your knees straight and torso upright, slowly lower your heels toward the floor to feel a gentle stretch in the back of your calves. Do three 15- to 30-second holds.
Knees to Chest
You’ll love relaxing into this pose, which stretches the muscles surrounding your SI joint to help relieve the lower back pain that’s typical of PsA, says Dr. Geevarghese. He recommends that you perform the stretch in bed first thing in the morning. It sets you up for a pain-free day, and you’re already in position! Lie on your back and fold both knees toward your chest. Place your hands on the back of your thighs, then gently hug your legs closer to your body. Never put pressure on the top of your knees. Do three 15- to 30-second holds.
Stretching both the hamstrings and calves, the runner’s stretch keeps you walking with ease and without pain, Wilson says. To do it, stagger your legs, one in front of the other, about 18 inches or so in front of a wall. Now, place your hands upon the wall, arms extended forward at shoulder level. Keeping your back leg straight with your heel down, bend your front knee and lean your body forward, toward the wall. Do three 15- to 30-second holds per leg.
Doorway Pec Stretch
A permanent curvature of the upper spine, called kyphosis, can occur with PsA. It’s especially prevalent with psoriatic spondylitis, a type of PsA in which inflammation targets the spine. Practicing moves to improve your posture, such as stretching the chest and front of the shoulders, may help with this, Dr. Geevarghese says. Stand in the middle of a doorway and place both forearms on the frame of the door with your elbows bent. Step one foot forward and lean forward to feel a gentle stretch in the front of your arms and chest. Do three 15- to 30-second holds.
Good overhead shoulder mobility is key to performing everyday tasks like washing your hair and reaching cabinet tops, Wilson says. But it can decline through the years, especially with PsA. To keep your shoulders working their best, stand with your back against a wall. Position your arms out to your sides, like goal posts, along the wall. Now, with your hands and arms remaining as close to the wall as comfortably possible, slide your arms up the wall, slowly straightening them, for a gentle stretch in your shoulders and upper back. Do 10 5-second holds.
Got tight hips? PsA can directly limit hip mobility—and, if yours are aching too much, you’ll likely sit more than usual, making your flexors (the front of the hips) even tighter, Dr. Geevarghese says. For this move, stand facing a staircase. Place one foot up onto the first or second step, holding onto the railing for balance. Keeping your back leg as straight as possible with your heel down, bend your front knee and lean forward to feel a stretch through your back leg, the front of your hips, and thigh. Do three 15- to 30-second holds per leg.
For men and women with psoriatic spondylitis, the neck can feel painfully stiff. Stretching can provide some much-needed relief, says Wilson. Sitting down, place one hand on the opposite side of your head, just above your ear. Gently pull your head to the side, as if you were trying to get your head to reach your shoulder. Don’t pull too far, or force the stretch—only go as far as what feels good. Try three 10-second holds per side.
Moving your fingers through a full range of motion can help maintain dexterity. Doing so in warm water helps the muscles of your fingers and palms relax even more, Dr. Geevarghese says. For this stretch, submerge your hands into a large bowl (or sink) full of warm water and gently close your hands into fists. Then, open both hands, either at once or one at a time, extending your fingers as far as they can comfortably go. Do 10 to 20 5-second holds for each hand.