Many people who suffer from different forms of arthritis know that it can flare up in the winter. This is mainly due to sudden drops in barometric pressure, causing already stressed joints to expand and trigger more pain. Whether you have rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis or psoriatic arthritis — chances are it becomes more of a burden when it’s cold outside.
Increased pain during the winter can make people with arthritis feel like exercise and an active lifestyle isn’t in the cards. While this feeling is understandable, it’s far from the truth: There are ways people with arthritis can meet their New Year’s resolutions to be more active, while managing pain flare-ups. In fact, increasing your fitness level and strengthening your joints and muscles is one of the best ways to treat and manage arthritis.
The fact remains that arthritis does come with limitations. We understand how the pain and limitations of arthritis can stop a fitness journey before it even begins. That’s why we curated a list of core exercises that are both manageable and effective. These exercises are designed to get you over that initial starting block. We also added instructive illustrations, tips and modifications to make things easier if you’re having trouble.
The core connects everything in our bodies. Contrary to popular belief, our core does not simply mean our abdominal area: It actually includes the muscles that support our spine and pelvis, extending from the diaphragm to the abdomen, pelvic floor, hip flexors, groin, buttocks and upper thighs. These muscles also play a critical role in supporting your bodyweight. If the core is weak, it puts extra burden on the feet and ankles, which increases your chances of experiencing foot pain and injury. Therefore, a strong core truly is the cornerstone for functionality and physical health.
Since core exercises keep everything working harmoniously, they are a critical component of effective arthritis treatment. They are proven to help take pressure off your joints, particularly the spine and hips. They also work as preventative measures to slow joint damage and improve stability and balance.
With that said, let’s look at some easy core exercises that can help people with arthritis! These exercises are a great starting point for people with pain, mobility issues, or beginners who haven’t exercised before. Be sure to also check out our Pinterest board and stretch series for additional simple routines that can help with a wide array of other foot conditions.
Keep the following tips when doing these exercises:
The cat cow stretch is also an excellent arthritis exercise for lower back and neck pain. It improves flexibility and your range of motion by managing joint stiffness and maintaining the elasticity of the muscles around your spine. This exercise can also help strengthen the spine and stimulate blood flow. Web MD notes that this is critical for those with rheumatoid arthritis.
To do this exercise:
You can also do this series as a stretch by holding each pose for 30 seconds. It feels fantastic after a long workday sitting at the computer.
Modifications: Don’t worry if you’re not able to move or stretch all the way; just extend to the point that you feel comfortable and feel it in the areas highlighted in the diagram above. If you’re having trouble feeling it, try moving your hands a bit and adjust your position.
Where you’ll feel it: When you’re doing the cat pose, you’ll feel a stretch in your back region. When you’re doing the cow pose, you’ll feel it in your chest and abdominal area. (see the above diagram for reference)
Those with arthritis-related lower back pain often notice discomfort and soreness in the hip flexor and gluteal (buttock) region. The funny thing about pain is that even though we may feel it in the hip or butt (a literal pain in the you-know-what), because everything is connected, the pain in fact originates from the back.
That’s what makes lying single-leg raises so great: In addition to toning the muscles in your abdomen and legs, lying single-leg raises strengthens your hip flexors (the muscles in your pelvic and groin region) which helps with help with pain management. To target your arthritis symptoms as much as possible, it’s essential to make sure you alternate between legs when doing this exercise.
To do this exercise
Modifications: You don’t need to raise your leg all the way up. You only need to raise it high enough that you feel your abdomen working.
Where you’ll feel it: You’ll feel this one primarily in the abdominal region. You may also feel it a bit by your hip flexor/pelvic region as those are the muscles that work hardest during this exercise. Remember: don’t force yourself to move more than you comfortably can.
A squat without a safety net can feel quite difficult for beginners with arthritis. That’s why a chair squat is a great foundation for getting used to this type of movement. Chair squats can improve the stability in the knee, hip and leg joints. Squats are a great all-in-one core exercise because they target multiple muscles groups in your core. This makes them very popular with physiotherapists.
To do your chair squats:
If you’re having trouble keeping your balance, or find yourself dropping onto the chair, you can then modify this exercise by doing it against a wall instead. To do a wall squat:
Modifications & Adjustments: Only go down as low as you comfortably can while still feeling your muscles working – you don’t need to go down all the way. If your arthritis typically affects your knees, don’t go down as low; the less you lower yourself, the less your knees have to bend, which means less strain. It’s important to rest if your knee pain flares up.
Where you’ll feel it: You’ll definitely feel this one in your thighs. You also want to feel it in your butt and abdominal area. If you’re not, try adjusting your form, slow it down, or clench your abdomen and buttock as you squat.
As a foot clinic, we haven’t forgotten about exercises targeting arthritis-related foot pain. Your feet have three dozen joints, and since arthritis causes joint deterioration, these pain flare-ups can easily occur in our feet. Towel scrunches can help relieve joint stiffness in the feet for arthritis patients. Working the foot muscles during exercise can also prevent your muscles from becoming weak or atrophied due to neglect. This only contributes to worsening pain and mobility problems.
To do towel scrunches:
Where you’ll feel it: You’ll feel this one in the feet, although it may not feel as intense as some of the other exercises.
Tip: This is a great exercise to do when you’re sitting on the couch watching TV (who said TV was a waste of time!?)
There are just simply too many great core exercises to cover in one article. So, we listed a bunch of other ones you can try. Just click on the link to learn more!
Some of these (and more) will be featured in Part 2 of our Beginner’s Guide to Exercises for Relieving Arthritis, so stay tuned!
Debilitating conditions can make you feel like your goals are unattainable. These arthritis exercises can help you get out of that mindset and give yourself the power to become stronger, manage pain and improve your range of motion. Be sure to keep up with our 2022 blog posts for even more informative posts on beginner exercises! Be sure to follow us on social media for updates.
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