Exercise Your RA Pain Away

Despite long-held beliefs to the contrary, moving inflamed joints can ease pain and reduce your need for medication.

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Years ago, doctors believed that bed rest was the solution to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain. "But today we know the idea that you shouldnt exercise is a myth," says Matthew Bunyard, MD, director of clinic operations in the Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Diseases at Cleveland Clinic. "True, you shouldnt vigorously exercise a flared joint thats hot and swollen. But gentle exercise, even in the midst of a flare, often wont make it worse-and can ease the pain." Individuals with RA reap the same health and fitness benefits from regular exercise as any active adult-and then some. New government guidelines for physical activity released in October 2008 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) a week-in sessions of at least 10 minutes at a time-of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. In addition to aerobic activity, you should perform strength-training exercises-working your muscles against resistance-two or more days each week. Add balance activities to the mix if youre at risk of falling. The federal guidelines state that if youre 65 or older and have a chronic condition that limits your ability to undertake the recommended levels of activity, then just be as active as you can be. By staying as active as possible, youll increase the range of motion of affected joints and strengthen the periarticular structures-muscles, tendons, and ligaments-that hold the joints in place, Dr. Bunyard explains. And, importantly, youre likely to experience pain relief. "Many people with RA have a gel phenomenon, meaning that the joint gels and stiffens when its not being moved. Movement lessens the stiffness and decreases pain," says Dr. Bunyard. "And less pain means youll have less need for pain medications."
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