Combat Joint Pain: 3 Arthritis-Friendly Activities for Seniors

Chad Birt
Written by Chad Birt on Fri May 27 2022.
Senior woman caregiver kissing

Up to 47% of Americans 65 and older have some type of doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Arthritis is a group of chronic disorders that cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, but all have one thing in common –– they tend to improve with exercise.

If you care for someone with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout, it's crucial to incorporate exercise into their daily routine. Regular workouts can strengthen specific muscle groups, provide pain relief, and improve their quality of life.

Is it safe for my loved one to exercise if they have arthritis?

Many people with progressive conditions like arthritis think that exercise will only make their symptoms worse, but according to Dallas Reynolds, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy in Bolingbrook, Illinois, that's far from the case.

"In the world of physical medicine, we love to use the phrase 'motion is lotion' when referring to an arthritic joint," Reynolds said. "When we think of good exercise for an arthritic joint, we suggest range-of-motion activities that help lubricate the joint. That helps reduce pain, improves lost motion, and increases function."

Likewise, if your loved one stops exercising because of arthritis, their condition might worsen. They might even experience repeated stress on the joints, affecting their mobility and quality of life.

How does exercise benefit arthritic joints?

Physical activity and exercise help arthritic joints in 3 main ways, according to Reynolds, including:

1) Improving your joint's range of motion

2) Helping you build stronger muscles

3) Relieving pain and inflammation

"By staying active, you can maintain your function and continue participating in the things you love, despite dealing with a condition like arthritis," Reynolds said.

Should my care recipient visit the doctor before getting started?

Yes. If your care recipient has arthritis and wants to start exercising, make an appointment with their primary care provider first. Reynolds says it's important to discuss your senior's intentions instead of simply getting started with a new workout.

"Your health and safety are the highest priority when beginning a new exercise program," Reynolds said. "It's important to make sure you strategize with your primary care provider about how to begin safely, based on your specific health status."

After a physical exam, a review of your care recipient's medical records, and a discussion of their goals, the doctor can develop an exercise program that aligns with their needs.

What are some examples of arthritis-friendly physical activities?

There are various exercises that can ease arthritis-related symptoms, but Reynolds says it's best to start with low-impact activities focused on movement.

"A very common area to experience arthritis is in the knees and hips," Reynolds said. "There are 3 great ways to get those joints moving in a safe way":

1) Riding a stationary or recumbent bike

"Riding a bike is a great low-impact exercise that can focus on restoring range of motion and decreasing pain," Reynolds said. "Starting with 10-15 minutes a day is a great way to begin."

2) Aquatic or pool exercises

"If you have access to a pool, this can be a great way to address arthritis symptoms," Reynolds said. "With the warm water and the reduction of weight of gravity on your joints, an arthritic joint can find relief while you perform exercises safely with minimal risk."

3) A walking program

"A basic walking program is often overlooked as a great way to ease into more weight-bearing exercises," Reynolds said. "You can start with a time-based goal or distance and slowly increase based on how your body responds to the activity.”

What type of clothing should my loved one wear during their workouts?

What your senior wears during their workouts is just as important as the types of exercise they do.

"When choosing an outfit, you will want to wear something that's comfortable and doesn't restrict movement," Reynolds said.

"You want to be able to freely move your joints within their given range of motion. People dealing with arthritis may also want to wear a compression sleeve for some extra support while maintaining the ability to move freely."

At the same time, don't let your care recipient wear anything that might restrict their movements. If they wear something that's too bulky or long, it may get caught on something, increasing the risk of a slip and fall or another injury.

Where can I find compression garments?

If your care recipient has osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, consider investing in one (or more) compression garments. Compression clothing, like gloves and socks, reduces swelling and increases circulation to arthritic joints.

Here at Carewell, we carry several types of compression garments from IMAK. If you have questions about which product will best meet your care recipient's needs, contact our friendly Care Specialists by calling (855) 855-1666 during normal business hours or send an email to support@carewell.com

What is the outlook for someone with arthritis?

Arthritis affects millions of Americans and it's more common as you age. There's no cure, but with healthy lifestyle changes and medication, it's possible to reduce uncomfortable symptoms.

"Having the proper medication, establishing an exercise program, and becoming educated on what can be done to slow the progression of arthritis can all make a difference," Reynolds said.

You may also want to consider working with a physical or occupational therapist.

"Having a physical therapist on your team can help you maintain a healthy, happy, and active life despite dealing with the challenges of arthritis."

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.