Safe Exercise Tips : How Do I Exercise With Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Best Home Gym Gear
A few basic, RA-friendly tools can make it easy to work out without leaving home.
By Meryl Davids Landau
Medically Reviewed by Alexa Meara, MD
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“Motion is lotion” is a motto physical therapists frequently tell people with rheumatoid arthritis. “You have to move, even if your joints hurt a little,” says Scott Haak, a physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
In addition to lubricating joints, exercise builds the muscles that support your joints, reduces fatigue, and protects your heart — especially important since for people with RA.
A Smart Way to Work Out
Of course, you need to be careful how you exercise, so you don’t do unnecessary damage. It’s valuable to have several sessions with a physical therapist (PT), who can help you create a routine that works with your particular condition. Ask your doctor for a referral to a PT, but after that you’ll likely do most of your workouts on your own.
A home gym can be an empty corner in your home or just a glorified stretching area. When space allows, basic gear, like a stability ball, is easy to keep at home and use on a regular basis.
Easy-to-Use Exercise Tools
The best gadgets are those that move in a predictable fashion, PTs say, rather than those that are “dynamic,” like a flying ball.
In addition to a stability ball, consider starting a beginner home gym with these five items. Each can assist your workout and help make it more interesting.
1. Stress Ball
You’ve probably seen people squeezing one of these small, 2 ½-inch balls to relieve anxiety or exercise their hands. “But squeezing it is not a good idea if you have RA, since a prolonged, forceful grip is hard on the fingers,” says Genie Lieberman, an occupational therapist and director of the Drummond Physical Rehabilitation Institute in Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida. Instead, you’ll want to keep your hands open as you work the ball, which can help make basic exercises more interesting. The can be found at most large discount stores.
Gaiam Restore Hand Therapy Kit, , Gaiam.com
One Great Move:
- Place the ball between your palms with fingers open, and push your hands together.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed. Hold for a few seconds.
- Release and repeat several times.
2. Foam Roller
These firm cylinders are great for stretching, and can help support joints while doing more rigorous exercises — placing it under your knees, for instance, when you do abdominal moves. The rollers are primarily used while you’re lying down; you can be on a carpeted floor, or even the bed. There are long tubes and short ones, but one mid-sized, 18-inch roller should be sufficient. You can ; they’re also sold in sporting goods and large discount stores.
Gaiam Restore Foam Roller,, Gaiam.com
One great move:
- Lie on your back on a comfortable surface and place the roller under your head and beneath your spine, so it’s supporting your torso.
- Bring your arms out to the side for stability. Breathe deeply as you allow your rib cage to fully open.
- Come out slowly by rolling the tube to one side until it's no longer under you.
3. Therapy Putty
Medical-grade putty is stronger than the stuff kids use. It’s similar to a stress ball, with the advantage that you can shape it or break it into smaller pieces. You can get a package that includes several putties of varied resistance, from extra-soft to firm. A ring of putty can be placed around two to five fingers to provide resistance as you stretch, while a ball of putty can be squeezed between your two palms. You can find this in medical supply shops and at online retailers. (Note: Don’t leave it in your car or other very hot places, as the putty may start leaking.)
Therapy Putty Resistive Hand Exercise Set,,SpecialSupplies.com
One Great Move:
- Make four little balls out of a piece of strong putty and put them between each of the fingers of one hand.
- Slowly and with control, squeeze your fingers towards one another. Do this a few times, then switch hands.
4. Resistance Band Loops
PTs don’t recommend traditional resistance bands for people with RA, because you have to grip the loose ends tightly while you exercise. They do suggest resistance bands loops, though, because you can place the loops over your hands, forearms, or calves and still benefit from the bands’ resistance. Like therapy putty, bands are color-coded to indicate varying resistance strengths.
TheraBand Resistance Band Loop and up,TheraBand.com
One Great Move:
- Place the loops over both forearms.
- Use your muscles to pull your arms away from each other. Hold for a few seconds, then gently release.
- Repeat several times.
This device, often used in Pilates, is good for working your thighs. It’s a firm, steel-core circle with padded grips. Because the ring can be held without needing to make a fist, it’s good for people with joint issues. In addition to exercises that press the sides of the ring, you can use it for stretching, such as by sitting cross-legged and bracing one grip of the ring on the floor to your side as you reach up your free hand and stretch the waist of your other side.
Magic Circle Pilates Ring,,Brookstone.com
One Great Move:
- Lie on your back on a soft surface. Bring your bended legs off the ground and place the padded grips between your knees. Inhale as you squeeze your knees towards one another.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Release, then repeat several times.
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