bigstock_senior_couple_in_gym_19939040 (1)

Rheumatoid arthritis and exercise

When you are diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The last thing on your mind is probably to join a gym and start exercising. However there are some great things to be said regarding exercise when you have arthritis.  Exercise will increase the strength of the muscles surrounding the joints. These muscles will make the joints stronger and reduce joint pain and stiffness. Exercise can also increase flexibility and endurance and promote overall health and fitness by giving you more energy and helping you control  your weight. This article will tell you more about RA and what we can do to effect this condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by sore joints due an increase in synovial fluid production. The overproduction of this joint-lubricant is the result of an inflammation in the joint, caused by an over-active immune system.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) can be translated as “a disrupted flow in the joints caused by inflammation”. This is because, up until the 17th century, it was thought that the substances that flow through the body would come to a stop in the joints that are affected with RA, causing the pain and swelling.

Today we know a little bit more about Rheumatoid Arthritis. We know that it is not a disrupted flow that causes the swelling, but an increase in synovial fluid production. The overproduction of this joint-lubricant that we call synovial fluid is the result of an inflammation in the joint caused by an over-active immune system.

The problem is that we don’t know what triggers the immune system to attack the joint and that is what makes it so frustrating. We can only treat the symptoms as long as we don’t know what the cause is.

So, what do we know about Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Well, we know that it is been around for a long time, at least 3000 years. We know that it is three times more likely to occur in women and that it often starts between 35 and 60 years of age, although it can start at an age as young as 25. RA usually starts in the smaller joints, hands and feet are commonly attacked first. Early symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, low grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness.
The joints, usually in the hands, wrists, knees or feet, on both sides of the body, swell and become painful and tender. The joints then start to show inflammation symptoms like redness and swelling.

What can we do to treat rheumatoid Arthritis?

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. To date, the goal of treatment in rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce joint inflammation and pain, maximize joint function, and prevent joint destruction and deformity.
This can be done in 3 ways: Medication, exercise and diet

Medication for RA is separated in first and second line drugs, better described as fast acting or slow acting medications.
First line or fast acting medications include mild painkillers like paracetamol and aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and Corticosteroids.
The second line or slow acting medications are known as DMARD’s (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs). These don’t cure the condition either, but can slow its progress, though they can be associated with serious side effects.
Please visit your doctor for more information.

There are also Anti-inflammatory herbs on the market that can be helpful, including tumeric (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium), devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), Chinese thoroughwax (Bupleuri falcatum), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) and cramp bark (Vibernum opulus). These herbs can be applied topically to the affected joints.

Creating an exercise program for a client with Rheumatoid Arthritis

In the past, patients with RA were advised to keep exercise to a minimum. Latest research however has proven that an appropriate exercise program, consistently followed, will relieve pain, strengthen connective tissue and increase flexibility and blood flow.

A good exercise program should focus on functional training, meaning that exercises should aim to improve fitness for everyday activities. Flexibility and joint range of motion should be included as key exercise components.  A good exercise program will consist of the following factors

  • Start with low intensity and duration in the initial phase of programming
  • Select low impact exercise to protect joints
  • Avoid stair climbing, contact sports or activities which require standing on one leg for a prolonged time or use stop-and-go movements
  • Reduce load or intensity if pain or swelling appears or persists
  • Avoid overstretching and hyper mobility, the stretches should always be comfortable and pain free.
  • Select shoes and insoles for maximum shock absorption.
  • Keep the head supported as much as possible during exercise
  • Avoid isometric holds longer than 6 seconds at maximal exertion as this can increase blood-pressure
  • Always stretch and warm up before starting exercise.


There is currently no evidence or proof that a certain food or diet can cause, cure or slow down rheumatoid arthritis. However that is not to say that a good diet isn’t important. The truth is that a good diet has many positive effects on your health and becomes more important when the ability to exercise decreases. It is not uncommon for patients to become overweight simply because their energy expenditure has dropped.
Some patients have discovered that certain food can act as allergens and trigger Rheumatoid Arthritis. Unfortunately these foods are different for each person, so again it is hard to point the finger to a specific type of food. However, there are foods that are not recommended as part of any joint disease diet. These include chocolate, additives, red meat, sugar, particular vegetables, salt, caffeine and certain dairy products.
Please visit a nutritionist to further advise you on this matter.
Some studies suggest that fish oils, oranges, and plant oils can help reduce joint inflammation. Certain vitamin supplements may also be beneficial. For example, certain drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis deplete folic acid, a critical vitamin B. Some patients take antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C, E, Selenium and zinc to restore balance and promote recovery.
New research has indicated that the anti-oxidants in green tea may also have a positive effect on Rheumatoid Arthritis. Again, there is no strong evidence that any of these will actually help.
Best advise up to date is still to have a balanced diet containing the right amount of Calcium, protein and fiber.

More information on rheumatoid arthritis



No Responses