Should I stop exercising because of osteoarthritis?

Question: My doctor just diagnosed me with osteoarthritis. What does that mean? I exercise on a regular basis. Should I stop because of the arthritis?

Answer: We are born with a layer of connective tissue between our joints. This tissue – cartilage – acts like a shock absorber and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. Osteoarthritis is due to a gradual loss of cartilage, and as we lose cartilage, our bones do not glide as smoothly. When the loss of cartilage becomes extreme, the eventual result is that the bones within the affected joint rub directly against each other.

The important thing to know is that, when done right, exercise is extremely helpful for people with osteoarthritis, as it is one of the most effective ways to minimize the pain associated with the condition. When you move your joints, you stimulate the production of synovial fluid which lines the joint. The more synovial fluid you produce the more lubricated your joints will be.

That said, there are certain things you want to keep in mind when putting together a safe exercise program.

Things to include:

1. Exercises that promote motion in your joints.

2. A thorough warm up.

3. Exercises that promote balance, core control and proper posture.

Things to stay away from:

1. Isometric exercises because they reduce blood flow to the muscles surrounding the static joint. An isometric exercise is one where you are required to hold a position. Exercises that you should avoid include holding low in a static squats or front and side planks.

2. High impact activity. Instead do low impact activity by always having one foot touching the ground at all times. For example, instead of doing jumping jacks, do alternating side toe taps with an arm reach.

3. Over stretching or extreme joint motions. Eliminate yoga classes from your workout program, or at least be very careful participating in such classes. Do not stretch to your ultimate limits and make sure that you inquire if the instructor has experience teaching people with osteoarthritis.

4. Do not work through pain, inflammation or swelling.

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