Exercises For Osteoarthritis: How to Get Started?

As per stats, osteoarthritis nearly affects over 32.5 million people in the US. The number is huge, right? Unfortunately, there is no cure for this deadly joint disease. However, there are certain things you can do to manage it, among one of them is exercise. 

You might think exercise can damage the already inflamed and painful joints. But that’s not the case here; research suggests that people with OA can and should exercise regularly to manage this disorder. 

Here are some studies that proved the effectiveness of exercises as a non-pharmacological treatment of OA. 







Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine


Strength training exercises can effectively reduce pain and boost functioning of joints.


The Official Journal of Family Physicians of Canada


The review suggests that exercise doesn’t accelerate the progression of OA. Instead, it may help reduce pain and disability associated with OA.




The results found out that exercise can improve OA symptoms much better than NSAIDs or COX-2 inhibitors.


Osteoarthritis and Cartilage


The report found that exercise is clinically significant in reducing pain, and any further studies won’t change this conclusion.

How Does Exercise Help Your Inflamed Joints

Keep Weight in Check 

Obese people are more likely to develop OA. The stiff joints get far worse in overweight people than those with a normal BMI. The reason is simple: the more weight you put on, the more stress your joints bear. As per arthritis foundation, being only 10 pounds overweight can put 15-50 pounds of pressure on joints. 

Not only does it stress joints, but the excess fat stimulates the protein release that causes inflammation. This constant low-grade inflammation can further make your joints vulnerable to OA. Besides, obesity can put you at risk of other chronic illnesses, such as stroke, diabetes and heart diseases. 

The good news is that you can avoid this damage by only losing a few pounds. Losing as little as 10% of body weight relieves half of your arthritis pain. It also helps control your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, contributing to your overall health. 

Strengthen Muscles 

Muscles absorb shock when you do impact activities like walking and jogging. That means stronger muscles protect your joints from damage. This is especially true in the case of the knee and hip joints. 

A study published in 2013 suggests that strength training activities can reduce osteoarthritis pain by 35% and increase lower limb function by 33%. So even if you have never been a bodybuilder, it’s time to lift some weight. 

Lubricates Joints 

Synovial membrane is a connective tissue that surrounds joints and produces a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid or synovia. It is a thick fluid of egg-like consistency that protects joints from damage in OA. 

Exercise stimulates the production of this fluid, thus lubricating the joints. Plus, it improves blood flow, which means providing more nutrients and oxygen to the joints. It also moves excess water that puts weight on the joints. 

Replace Worn-Out Cells With Healthy Ones 

As osteoarthritis progresses, the cartilage within joints starts deteriorating that directly affects joints. A study suggests that moderate-intensity exercise can help cartilage healing and reduce the risk of injury. 

As per the arthritis foundation, exercise may activate some genes that influence cartilage rebuilding. Other than that, exercise boosts circulation and stimulates autophagy- the process by which old, worn-out cells are broken down and removed from the body. 

Improve Range of Motion 

Movement is not easy while living with osteoarthritis. Regular workout is great for improving your range of motion and flexibility. When you regularly put your muscles and joints to use, they stay active and bear more stress. 

Lessens Anxiety and Depression 

Living with osteoarthritis isn’t easy; it can take a toll on your mental health. As per the center of disease control and prevention, one out of every five US arthritis patients has anxiety or depression symptoms. Bad mental health is linked with poor treatment outcomes and average quality of life. 

Regular exercise is well known for boosting psychological health. It releases feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine, in the blood that elevates your mood. Good mental health is not just associated with better outcomes in OA, but it’s essential for your overall well-being. 

Fitness Plan for People With Osteoarthritis

Now that we know how exercise helps manage OA, let’s move on to some basic exercises you should add to your fitness routine. Keep in mind no amount of exercise will move osteoarthritis out of your body; it will just ease the symptoms and improve your quality of life. With this understanding, let’s explore some moves to kill the pain. 

Aerobic Exercise 

Aerobic workouts boost cardiovascular health and get the heart to pump harder and faster. Other than that, it improves your general health, controls weight, builds muscles and protects joints. 

Try to avoid doing high-impact activities as they put too much pressure on already weakened joints. Remember, the goal is to strengthen joints and not to pound them. Here are a few aerobic activities that are easy on your joints. 

● Walking

This simple little activity can relieve your arthritis pain and strengthen your muscles. Plus, going out for walking is a proven stress reliever. Wear a good pair of shoes and avoid walking downhill, as it can stress your joints.

walking exercise

● Swimming

Swimming is easy on your joints as the water supports your weight. And the good thing is it works all your muscles and builds cardiovascular endurance. Still, if you don’t wanna swim, you can consider walking through chest-high water. It can reduce weight on your joints by 50% compared to walking on the land.

swimming exercise

● Cycling

Whether indoor or outdoor, it engages all muscles of your body. Cycling is a low-impact aerobic activity that loosens up your joints and gives you great cardio, a win-win.


Muscle Strengthening Activities 

As we age, our muscle mass decreases, and that means the protection of joints by these muscles get lost too.  Strength training activities that target the lower body limit deterioration of muscles and stress on joints. Here are some workouts that will change the game for you. 

● Wall push-up

This exercise is good for people who can’t do simple push-ups. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart at arm’s length distance from the wall. Place your palms on the wall. Lower yourself against the wall and push back to the starting position.

Wall push-up

● Bridge 

Lie straight on your back with knees bent. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips. Raise your buttocks while keeping your back straight. Stop for a second and then lower your buttock but not to the ground and repeat.

bridge exercise

● Bodyweight Squats 

Stand and keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the back of your head. Start lowering your buttocks till your thighs are parallel to the ground. Pause for a moment and assume the starting position.

Bodyweight Squats

Stretching Exercises 

This group of exercises improves range of motion and eases joint pain. It’s best to practice stretching when you feel the least pain and stiffness. Here are some flexibility exercises that minimize the loss of movement around your joints.

Stretching Exercises

● Double Hip Rotation 

Lie down on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Lower your knees to one side of the floor and turn your head to the opposite side. Pause for a while and then assume back resting position. 

● Calf Stretch

Hold on to the chair. Position one leg back, knees straight and feet flat on the ground. Bend the other leg and move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your calf. Switch the legs and repeat.

Calf Stretch

● Heel Raise 

Stand tall and hold on to the chair for balance. Raise your heels and balance yourself on the toes of your feet. Pause for a few seconds and lower the heels to the ground. Repeat.

Heel Raise

Tips to Exercise With Osteoarthritis

We know thinking about exercise can overwhelm you when your joints are already bogging you down. You might fear that a wrong move can further make your joints worse. But don’t worry, here are some tips that will help you start safely.

Tips to Exercise With Osteoarthritis

Start Small

Take it easy on yourself. You don’t have to spend hours and hours in the gym to reap the benefits. If you are new to this, start slow and go low. Try exercising for 5 to 10 minutes once or twice a day. When your body gets used to it, intensify the level and duration of your activity. 

Don’t Overdo It

Some pain after exercise is normal. But if you feel pain for over an hour after exercise, it’s a sign that you are overdoing it. You should talk to your health care provider about changing your exercise regimen if you notice: 

  1. Fatigue 
  2. Joint swelling
  3. Weakness 
  4. Less range of motion 
  5. Pain that lasts more than an hour after exercise

Always Warm-up

Always warm-up or apply heat before you exercise. It increases the blood flow to the joints and prevents muscle soreness. It is essential for everyone before a workout but is even more important for people with OA, as their joints need special attention. 

Apply Ice Afterward

Applying ice after exercise, especially activities that cause inflammation is a good idea. It decreases blood flow to muscles, thus decreasing soreness and inflammation.


There are a number of studies that prove the effectiveness of exercise as a non-pharmacological treatment of osteoarthritis. Regular exercise lubricates the joints, enhances mobility, strengthens muscles and improves psychological health. To reap the benefits, practice low-impact exercises that don't put stress on your joints. And always listen to what your body says. Happy Exercise!

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