With OA, Movement Is Medicine

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

If you have osteoarthritis (OA), you’re no stranger to pain, stiffness, and soreness in your joints and muscles. The last thing you may feel like doing with OA is moving, but ironically, exercise can play a major role in maintaining and improving your ability to move. Don’t worry: There’s no need to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise with OA. These five simple exercises can help you strengthen your body while easing the discomfort caused by this condition. Let’s get started!

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Exercise Makes You Stronger

When you strengthen muscles, you protect and support nearby joints and improve their function. This is especially important if you have OA. “Resistance training is an excellent treatment option if you live with OA,” says certified personal trainer Aundra Anderson of Centreville Maryland. “Strengthening your muscles can ultimately lead to less pain and greater mobility for everyday life.” Aleksandra Radjen, DPT, a physical therapist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio agrees: “Strength-based exercises can help take the stress off the affected joint.”

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Exercise Can Reduce Stiffness

According to the Arthritis Foundation, when the smooth cushion between the bones known as cartilage breaks down, joints can become hard to move. “A major complaint for individuals with osteoarthritis is joint stiffness,” reports Dr. Radjen. “Participating in arthritis-friendly exercises can help reduce this stiffness. Exercise can also maintain and improve your range of motion. When it comes to arthritis, we know that motion is lotion for the joints.”

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Exercises That Can Help OA

Any exercise is good, but not all exercises are created equal when it comes to OA. We asked personal trainer Brent Walbridge, a strength and conditioning specialist at Vitality Fitness in Concord, North Carolina, and Crossfit trainer Laura Brunnhoelzl, a movement and mobility Coach, also at Vitality Fitness, to recommend five arthritis-friendly exercises that can get you moving and help you feel your best with OA. Here’s what they suggest…

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Strengthen Your Hands

Grip strength can be an issue for people with OA, as your fingers refuse to curl around an object, and your grasp is weak. “One of the best ways to improve grip strength is by doing the ‘farmer’s walk’—picture a farmer carrying milk buckets,” says Brunnhoelzl. Starting with lighter weights, such as five-pound dumbbells, grip one in each hand, then walk steadily across the room and back. Do this 10 times. As your grip improves, you can go up in weight. “The goal is to not to let them slip from your hands as you walk,” she says.

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Stabilize Your Shoulders

“Adequate stabilization can help support the shoulder joints and make them more pain-free,” explains Brunnhoelzl. “The ‘plank’ pose is a great exercise to not only help stabilize the shoulders but also to strengthen your core.” To perform a plank, get down on all fours, then extend your legs straight behind you while resting on your elbows, creating a long, straight line from your head to toes. “Be sure to keep your head, spine, and hips in line to make sure your spine is safely supported,” she says.

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Ease Hip Pain

Hips can be a common area of pain for those with OA. Muscles around the hip (hip abductors) help move the leg away from the body as well as helping rotate the leg at the hip joint. Your hip abductors are also necessary for staying stable when walking or standing on one leg. OA is known to negatively impact hip abductor muscle strength and function, according to research in Osteoarthritis Research Society International. To improve your hip strength and mobility, try this move…

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Try This Hip Abductor Exercise

How’s this for common sense: You can increase the strength and mobility of your hip abductors by doing… hip abductions. Lie on your left side and stabilize your body by resting on your left elbow. Raise your right leg toward the ceiling, as far as it can comfortably go. Lower and repeat 10 times, then switch sides. “This will help strengthen your hips while you improve your mobility and range of motion,” says Brunnhoelzl. If more challenge is needed, ankle weights can be eventually added.

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Build Better Knees

The National Arthritis Foundation reports that people with osteoarthritis experience as much as 30% more falls than those without arthritis due to weakened muscles around the knee joints. Wall sits are an easy way to improve your quadricep strength which will in turn help to stabilize your knees, says Walbridge. Wearing non-slip footwear, lean with your back against a wall, feet about a foot away from the wall base. Bend your knees until thighs are parallel to the floor, knees over your toes. Hold the position for 30 seconds, the return to standing. Repeat five times.

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Work Your Full Body

A modified “burpee” as it’s known in the sports world can help make great fitness gains. “Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, touch your knees, then bend your knees and place your hands on the ground,” says Walbridge. “Step back, one foot at a time, until you hit a plank position. Then slowly walk your feet forward underneath your body and stand back up.” Do this 10 times to strengthen your shoulders, legs, and core. It might feel awkward at first, but as with all the moves here, the more you do it, the closer you’ll be to living your best life with OA.

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.