Rheumatoid arthritis may progressively affect joint mobility, but it does not necessarily have to be life-altering or limiting in any way. In most cases, a healthy diet and specialized exercise plan can help slow the condition’s progression. While we have learned of low-resistance endurance and balance exercises in the previous article, here are some more exercises to further improve joint and muscle strength and flexibility:
While Isotonic exercises where muscles work against resistance, such as weightlifting, are highly recommended for combating RA-induced muscle weakening, for those with swollen joints or who are at later stages of the condition, Isometric exercises, that work by relaxing and tensing muscles without any heavy exercise equipment, are an effective alternative for increasing strength and flexibility in the following major muscle areas:
1- Chest Press:
Raise your arms horizontally at chest level, press your palms together as hard as possible, hold, and then rest for 5 seconds. Do 5 repetitions while slowly building up to 10-15 second repetitions at a time.
2- Shoulder Extension:
While standing straight with your back against the wall, arms at your sides, and elbows straightened, push your arms back towards the wall in a backward shoulder-roll motion, hold for 5 seconds, rest, and repeat 10 times.
3- Thigh Exercise:
While sitting on a flat surface with one leg straight and the other bent, tighten the thigh muscles of your straight leg for 6 seconds, relax, straighten the other leg and repeat; with a gradual increase from 5 to 15 repetitions twice a day.
4- Abdominal Contractions:
While lying on your back with your hands resting on your stomach, lift your head by squeezing your head, neck, and stomach muscles, hold for 5 seconds, lower your head, and repeat; gradually increasing from 5 to 15 repetitions.
While isometric exercises provide the added benefit of increased flexibility, specialized stretches can further increase the range of motion and flexibility, and reduce stiffness for the following most widely affected small and larger joints:
1- Finger Stretch:
Open and extend your fingers as straight as you can after making a fist, rest, and repeat the exercise twice a day with a gradual increase from 5-20 repetitions. For an added challenge, squeeze a tennis ball-sized foam or sponge ball, release, and extend your fingers.
2- Wrist Exercise:
Sit on a table, and while resting your left forearm on the surface and left hand hanging over the edge, grab the fingers of your left hand with your right, bend it at the wrist, and move it up and down as far as possible without pain. Rest and repeat with the opposite side, gradually increasing from 5-20 times twice a day.
3- Hip Rotation:
Sit or lie down with your feet slightly apart and legs and knees straightened, turn your knees inward facing each other, touch your toes together and hold for 5 seconds. Then turn your knees out and hold again for 5 seconds. Repeat twice a day for 5-20 repetitions at a time.
4- Leg Stretch:
With knees slightly bent, lean forward as far as comfortably possible in order to reach your toes while standing, hold for 10-20 seconds, rest, and repeat twice a day for 5-10 repetitions at a time.
5- Foot Flex:
Lean forward with your heels firmly planted on the floor while facing a wall with your palms placed flat over it, making sure to keep one foot in front of the other. Hold for 30 seconds, do 3 repetitions, and repeat with the other foot.
Remember to do a light 3-5 minute aerobic warm-up before each session. If you have osteoporosis, avoid bending forward with your back curved so as to reduce the risk of fractures.
While safe and joint-friendly, switch to alternate exercises with a professional trainer or upon your doctor’s advice if any of the above exercises cause joint pain. If needed, you can book an appointment with a top Physiotherapist or Orthopedic Specialist in Islamabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi through oladoc.com, , or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your musculoskeletal concerns.