Exercising in a Flare

Just like life, arthritis may have its ups and downs. The activity of your arthritis may “flare” up from time to time with more painful and swollen joints.

Overuse of an actively inflamed (warm, swollen, painful) joint may aggravate your arthritis and may increase joint damage. It is important to understand your body and the condition of your joints so that you can adjust your exercise routine accordingly.

Tips for Exercising in a Flare

  1. Use ice before and/or after you exercise
  2. Continue daily active range of motion exercise, working up to but not into pain.
  3. If your strengthening exercise is causing pain, decrease the weight and/or the repetitions. If pain persists remove the exercise from your program. Talk to your physiotherapist about what strengthening exercises are best for you when you are in a flare. Certain strengthening exercises put less stress on the joints and may be more appropriate when your joints are inflamed.
  4. Do not stretch an inflamed joint. During an active flare swelling in the joint is already causing the joint tendons, ligaments and capsule to be stretched. Stretching may cause these structures to overstretch and cause laxity and damage to the joint.
  5. Choose a low impact form of aerobic exercise. Swimming or stationary bicycling can be substituted for walking when you have hip, knee or ankle pain. Modifying activities such as increasing the height of a bike seat or using a cane when walking will decrease the stress on your hips and knees. Avoid activities that include jumping, twisting, and sudden stops. This includes some aerobic fitness classes, jogging, racquet, and contact sports.
  6. Exercising in water (hydrotherapy) can help to decrease the stress on your weight bearing joints. By going into water up to your neck you are only bearing 25% of your body weight.
  7. If your hands, wrists, or shoulders are painful try walking instead of swimming.
  8. Protect your joints with splints or braces.
  9. Pace yourself.
  10. As your flare subsides, gradually put yourself back into your normal exercise routine.
  11. Expect to start at a lower level than before the flare i.e. decrease your repetitions, weight, and intensity.

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