I am afraid exercise will make my pain worse or aggravate my condition
This concern is very understandable. Let’s explore what really could aggravate your arthritis symptoms and what you can expect to occur when you begin to exercise.
What to avoid
High impact exercise (by that we mean anything that involves you taking both feet off the ground – running, skipping, jumping or sports that involves similar actions). Stress on your knees, hips and spine is significantly increased with this type of exercise so it’s best to go for low-impact type exercise where one foot stays in contact with the ground or your weight is supported i.e. in water or while seated on a bike, for example.
Always start low, slow and short
It happens often – people get over enthusiastic, do too much too soon and suffer as a result. This is a sure-fire way to put anyone off.
The trick is to start low, slow and short:
Start low – by this we mean the weight or loading that you use.
Make it slow –perform your exercises slowly and with control to ensure your technique is correct.
Keep it short – this is the activity duration whether it is taking a walk, a swim, or lifting weights.
If you start low, slow and short, and build up the intensity and duration in small increments you will be much less likely to experience pain and discomfort. A little bit of discomfort however is perfectly normally when you ask your body to do something it is unaccustomed to.
So how can you tell if the pain you are feeling is nothing to worry about or something that needs modification?
As a general rule if the discomfort goes away within 1-2 hours of exercising, then it is nothing to worry about and if you feel discomfort in your muscles rather than in your joints it is also part of the normal ‘local muscular fatigue’ response to exercise.
It is useful to be aware of DOMS. This stands for ‘Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness’ and typically comes on 48 hours after exercise that you are not used to. For example, trampers who complete a serious walk will often feel stiff in their legs and calves a day later. DOMs will only last a few days and then you should be back to normal.
Tip: A bit of gentle stretching and a relaxing warm bath with some Epsom salts (magnesium) will relieve symptoms.
If however you haven’t gone on a long tramp and yet are feeling significant pain lasting into the following day after exercise, this is feedback to tell you to do one of two things:
Do less – do significantly less next time – and build up your progressions from there.
Modify – change the exercise, movement or activity. You can possibly come back to it when you have built up your muscle strength and fitness, for now it is not the best exercise for you.