Stretching to Help with Arthritis
Why is Stretching Good for Your Body?
Stretching should be part of every arthritis patient's daily routine. A good stretch accomplishes two things. First, it helps prevent injuries by warming up muscles and tendons. Warm muscles are more limber and less likely to tear.
Stretching is also a perfect antidote to stiffness. A good stretch every day helps keep joints flexible enough to bend, twist, and do just about anything else asked of them, she says. However, those with rheumatoid arthritis should give their sore joints a rest during flare-ups. Even a mild stretch could further inflame the joint.
When done properly, stretches are slow, gentle, and easy. People with arthritis shouldn't bounce during a stretch or push to the point of extreme pain. Stretch until you feel mild discomfort, holding the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, and repeating it three to five times. A person should spend at least 10 minutes each day stretching, and work each major muscle group.
Stretching may hurt a little at first, but the pain quickly gives way to feelings of relaxation, flexibility, and relief. Stretches are so gentle on the joints that they can be done by anyone at any age in any stage of arthritis.
Some people with arthritis may want to take a yoga class. Yoga combines stretching, strength training, and range-of-motion exercises all in one discipline, and preliminary studies indicate that it may help relieve the pain and tenderness of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. As an added benefit, yoga can help you relax and relieve some of the stresses of living with arthritis.
What Kind of Stretches are Best?
Your doctor, personal trainer, or physical therapist can recommend specific stretches that are right for you. You may also consider trying these excellent stretches and warm-up exercises from the Arthritis Foundation:
- Stand up straight with your arms forward and your palms facing inward. Slowly raise each arm as high as possible (either together or one at a time). Slowly move each arm back to the starting position.
- While standing straight, shrug each shoulder upwards. Lower the shoulder and repeat.
- Stand up straight while holding onto the back of a chair with one hand. Slowly lift one leg to the side, then cross it in front of the other leg. Return to the starting position and do the same thing with the other leg. (This may not be appropriate for someone who has had a total hip replacement.)
- While standing up straight, reach for the sky with both hands. Hold the stretch and slowly lower your arms.
- Bend over and extend your arms toward your toes. Hold and slowly straighten.
- Make a fist. Hold and relax.
Stretching is easy, safe, and deeply rewarding. It's something to look forward to, a reason to get out of bed. Or, in many cases, a way to get out of bed. Whether you need help to get through the day or just want to feel a little less stiff, stretching is an excellent first step.