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Exercise and rheumatoid arthritis

Strike a balance between rest and exercise. Rest will make inflamed joints feel more comfortable, but without movement your joints will stiffen and your muscles will become weaker. You need to find out what the right balance is for you.

It's possible to exercise the muscles without even moving the joint by doing isometric exercises. These are done in static positions so the joint angle and muscle length don't change. Many yoga positions are isometric – a physiotherapist may be able to suggest some of these exercises.

Exercise is good for your general health, so use your muscles and joints as much as you can without harming them. If a particular activity causes your joints to become warm and swollen or if it causes severe pain then stop and rest. If not, you should be fine to continue. If a particular activity always causes a flare-up then it’s probably best to avoid it and find an alternative.

If you go to a gym or health club, tell the fitness instructor about your condition so that they can develop an appropriate exercise plan for you. Your physiotherapist can advise you about this too. It’s best to avoid exercises involving high impact, such as step exercises and squash, or contact sports such as rugby or football. The following activities will have less strain on your joints:

  • swimming
  • walking
  • cycling 
  • aquarobics (aerobics in a swimming pool).

Whichever form of exercise you do, make sure you always warm up properly and choose good footwear with shock-absorbing soles. 

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