Exercise for Rheumatic Disease

Regular exercise, which helps maintain a proper weight, makes muscles stronger and joints more flexible, can be very helpful in managing rheumatic diseases. In addition, movement helps increase the range of motion, enhances strength, reduces the amount of muscle spasming and increases the flow of blood to muscles and joints, which promotes healing.

When balanced with rest, exercise can help reduce pain and stiffness and reduce stress. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

A physical therapist may guide you in creating a safe program. A therapist will do a full structural analysis of your bones and muscles, including muscle flexibility, strength, balance, posture and gait. The program that he or she develops will take into consideration your individual body, condition and needs. The program will be safe, individualized and will include a home stretching and strengthening program, as well as guidance in appropriate group exercises (such as yoga, tai chi or pool classes), Pilates, cardiovascular exercises or training in a gym on machines (such as elliptical trainers and bikes).

The best exercise is one that does not increase your symptoms or cause pain. When starting an exercise program, start with what you can do now and then increase it by about 10 percent more each week. Always pay attention to how you feel. If you have more pain, cut back your exercise by about 10 percent.

Good exercises include brisk walking, biking, tai chi, swimming and water aerobics. Exercises done in water can help relieve the pressure of gravity on joints while giving you aerobic exercise and stretching tight, sore muscles.

Exercise combined with physical and occupational therapy can also help persons with rheumatic diseases prevent disability.

It is important to listen to your body. Avoid exercising if your joints are tender, injured or severely inflamed. If you feel a pain that you have not before, stop exercising. New pain that lasts more than two hours after exercise usually means that you have overdone it. Be sure to stand up straight while exercising.

Children who have rheumatic conditions, such as juvenile arthritis, should be encouraged to participate in regular school activities, extracurricular activities and family responsibilities as much as possible.