Arthritis and Exercise, How Do I Start?

People with arthritis should discuss exercise options with their doctors and other health care providers. Most doctors recommend exercise for their patients. Many people with arthritis begin with easy, range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics. People with arthritis can participate in a variety of, but not all, sports and exercise programs. The doctor will know which, if any, sports are off-limits.

The doctor may have suggestions about how to get started or may refer the patient to a physical therapist. It is best to find a physical therapist who has experience working with people who have arthritis. The therapist will design an appropriate home exercise program and teach clients about pain-relief methods, proper body mechanics (placement of the body for a given task, such as lifting a heavy box), joint protection, and conserving energy.

Step Up to Exercise: How To Get Started!

  • Discuss exercise plans with your doctor.

  • Start with supervision from a physical therapist or qualified athletic trainer.

  • Apply heat to sore joints (optional; many people with arthritis start their exercise program this way).

  • Stretch and warm up with range-of-motion exercises.

  • Start strengthening exercises slowly with small weights (a 1- or 2-pound weight can make a big difference).

  • Progress slowly.

  • Use cold packs after exercising (optional; many people with arthritis complete their exercise routine this way).

  • Add aerobic exercise.

  • Consider appropriate recreational exercise (after doing range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise). Fewer injuries to joints affected by arthritis occur during recreational exercise if it is preceded by range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise that gets your body in the best condition possible.

  • Ease off if joints become painful, inflamed, or red, and work with your doctor to find the cause and eliminate it.

  • Choose the exercise program you enjoy most and make it a habit.

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

Most experts agree that if exercise causes pain that lasts for more than 1 hour, it is too strenuous. People with arthritis should work with their physical therapist or doctor to adjust their exercise program when they notice any of the following signs of strenuous exercise:

  • Unusual or persistent fatigue
  • Increased weakness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Increased joint swelling
  • Continuing pain (pain that lasts more than 1 hour after exercising)

The above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (

For additional information, please visit the Arthritis Center.

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Last Editorial Review: 7/6/2004