Is it POSSIBLE to Exercise with Arthritis?! 7 things you need to know before you start

is it possible to exercise with arthritis

Is it good for your joints to exercise with arthritis? Or should you avoid it so you can “save” your joints? In short, the answer is without exercise, you may not be able to find long lasting pain relief. It is one of the most vital components of treating osteoarthritis naturally. If you are looking to avoid surgery, it is crucial that you find ways to strengthen and move your joints in ways that they like. I promise it’s not impossible, even if it feels like it right now!

When you have osteoarthritis, regardless of the stage (learn more on the stages here) exercise can help in some way.

I know you may be sitting there thinking, “well my {insert painful joint(s)} are bone on bone and I don’t have any cartilage left, how can exercise help me?”

OR

I’ve tried exercise before but it just seems to irritate my joints further or I end up injuring myself…”

You can be led to believe that exercise can make osteoarthritis worse as your doctor or other healthcare professional may tell you to slow down or take it easy in order to “save” your joints. 

Exercise actually is one of the most vital aspects of a treatment plan, especially if you are trying to avoid surgery (learn more about how exercise helps osteoarthritis here).

If you have bone on bone arthritis and/or a medical professional has told you that surgery is inevitable along with my personal favorite, “Wow, I’m surprised you’re still walking” I want you to know it is possible for you to feel strong and stable again. You can move in ways that don’t flare up your joint pain. 

You CAN exercise with arthritis.

Take a look at a recent comment on my Bone on Bone Knee Arthritis Workout video in finding hope in movement again:

knee bone on bone arthritis

And more success stories of finding hope and strength again after feeling like it was impossible. It is possible to get your aerobic training in without walking and it is possible to find movements that your joints actually like!

You may also surprise yourself with what you are capable of with the right tools and knowledge of exercise like these three below: 

exercise with arthritis in the knees
exercise with arthritis
exercise with arthritis knee

How to Exercise with Arthritis: 7 Things You need to know

Not all exercise is created equal, especially if you have osteoarthritis. Your joints will not like certain movements and they won’t mind others. 

The key is finding the right type of exercise because if you don’t, you may actually do more harm than good and we don’t want that! 

Here are the 7 considerations I want you to know before you hop into an exercise program: 

1. listen to your body

The phrase “no pain, no gain” does not apply here. Instead, pushing through significant levels of pain can actually drive up both your joint pain and inflammation levels if not careful. 

So where should you draw the line

Discomfort is okay when first starting exercise, trying new movements, and also when it is below a 4/10 on a 0-10 pain scale. Usually in this instance, you can keep going as long as pain doesn’t cross the threshold. 

If you are doing an exercise that flares pain significantly (over this 4/10 pain threshold), I like to view it as a way that your joint is trying to communicate with you that whatever you are doing is too much.

Using this scale can help to make exercise much more feasible, instead of constantly guessing whether you are causing more damage or not. Here’s an example a Facebook Community member shared:

exercise with bone on bone knee arthritis

2. Find the right modifications

Please understand there are many ways you can exercise with arthritis-finding what feels best to you trumps everything else. That being said, there are a few exercises to certainly prioritize but there are many variations to each exercise! 

For example, squats are great to build knee strength to help with knee and hip arthritis as well as even degenerative disc disease. But if squats don’t feel right, you don’t have to do them!

There are 1000s of different ways to do a squat. If you hyperfocus on the only way you know how to do them, you likely will continue to aggravate your joints. If you aren’t sure which modification you should be doing, you can take a look at this video for more examples:

The same modifications exist for other popular movements such as lunges, deadlifts, stairs, push-ups- you name it! 

The hardest part can be finding the right modification for you. If you want to take the fast track instead of the trial and error route, the Arthritis Adventure Blueprint will set you up for success when it comes to giving you the right modifications as well as prioritizing which movements you need to master.

3. Master bodyweight first

Before you add any weights to a routine, especially with osteoarthritis it is important you master bodyweight exercises first.

For example, before adding weight to a squat or a deadlift- make sure you can do the movement without weight first. This can ensure you will be set up for success when weight is added.

Strength training is extremely beneficial for osteoarthritis and even osteoporosis but does have the potential to lead to more pain if you overload the joint too soon.

One of my favorite tools to begin mastering bodyweight is a set of suspension straps. They offer adequate support without compromising form and can be used at home! Learn more about those here.

I also have some other amazing exercise products and recommendations that I often get questions about so you can get the most out of your exercises in this post.

4. Understand cartilage actually likes exercise

arthritis and cartilage

I meet a lot of people who are hesitant to exercise in fear that it will do further damage to cartilage. That the more you move, the worse your joint will become.

I want you to know that your joint is not wearing away further with every step that you take. It actually is quite the opposite.

Your pain is coming from irritation, not from the “wearing away” of the cartilage because cartilage doesn’t have feeling. There are no nerves in your cartilage.

Your cartilage also thrives with movement. Think of it like sponge: when you squeeze it and let go, it is able to reform while absorbing all sorts of new water. Your cartilage is the same way. It gets nutrients by compressing then reforming again. 

If you spend too much time sitting, you aren’t allowing as many nutrients to get to the cartilage. This can then lead to joint irritation, much like if you don’t get food you likely will become irritated too! 🙂

5. Don't forget about balance

Balance is incredibly powerful when it comes to healing arthritic joints but it’s one of the most commonly forgot about in typical exercise routines! 

If you aren’t able to stand on one leg or stand with one foot in front of the other like on a balance beam, it likely is time to brush up on some balance exercises! 

Learn more details about why balance helps osteoarthritic joints and why it needs to be included in exercise with arthritis in this blog post

Sometimes you may not even know your balance needs work until you try an exercise routine that challenges it! If you aren’t following me on Tiktok yet, you may be missing out on some fun exercise options. Follow me here.

balance exercise with arthritis

If you’re more of a Youtube fan, I totally get it. Here is one of my most popular full body workouts that can help challenge your balance while strengthening your other joints too! 

6. A little bit of progress goes a long way

As humans, we can be really hard on ourselves. I’ve noticed that many people feel disappointed when they have to modify an exercise or can’t do as much as they used to be able to do. 

These thoughts can lead you to push too hard and overdo it, thus leading to more pain! It is crucial to listen to your body and accomplish what your body is ready for. 

Even the smallest of movements can make a big difference, even if it doesn’t feel like it right away! In order to be successful, you have to slowly build confidence. 

I have found that you can see so much more success when you take it slow and truly learn what your body is capable of. Trying to speed through a workout you found online may not make your joints feel very good!

With the appropriate guidance, you can make things like this possible:

hope for exercise with arthritis

So where do you find appropriate guidance?

Starting slow is not always easy but let me tell you, it’s so worth it. This is why in my signature program, the Arthritis Adventure Blueprint, you will start with the basics in workout one and slowly progress to workout 10. You will be truly amazed with what you can accomplish. 

Kristin started with bone on bone knee arthritis and a recommendation for surgery from her doctor. She worked through the Blueprint, slowly but surely and got to the point where she could actually JUMP! 

It’s more than just being able to jump though. With that new found confidence and strength, now she is able to walk longer distances, go up and down the stairs, and even make it through a Costco trip without severe pain! 

Here’s more information on why jumping is so beneficial for osteoarthritis when your joints are ready for it.

exercise with arthritis possibility

7. Consistency is key

exercise with arthritis goals

Okay I saved the best for last. Too many people are out there spreading the word for quick fixes for weight loss and pain relief. This becomes an expectation that all results will happen quickly. 

But honestly, the quicker the result happens, the less likely it is to be sustained. It’s the harsh truth…

Think about the last time you tried to start an exercise program or tried to lose weight. Did you find yourself losing motivation or stopping your efforts after a couple of weeks of limited results? 

What if I told you that you may have stopped right before a huge breakthrough?

Most of the people I work with start to see long lasting results at 8-10 weeks. Consistency is the key that holds most of the power when it comes to exercise with arthritis and finding true pain relief.

Focusing on the small wins along the way can be truly impactful. The small things you accomplish can be as simple as waking up with a little less stiffness or a less swelling after a walk or even just feeling more energized with just one more hour of sleep.

You have to find a way to be consistent. I recommend working out AT LEAST 3 days a week but increasing to 5 days a week of movement if your joints allow for it. Consistently controlling inflammation in other ways like food and sleep is also a must. Learn more on that here.

Conclusion: Success in exercise with arthritis

Your path to success truly comes with the right guidance, adequate consistency, and not skipping steps. 

Where I see most people go wrong is trying to start with exercise that is too intense or not joint friendly or only focusing on exercise and avoiding all other aspects of inflammation control.

You can totally do this. You can overcome your osteoarthritis pain. If you need help getting started, you can download my free guide to reversing osteoarthritis symptoms to get you on the right path. 

If you want to take the fast track and get started right now, head to the Arthritis Adventure Blueprint as it has everything you need a sfar as exercise, knowledge, and inflammation control when it comes to osteoarthritis.

See you on the inside! 

Disclaimer: This post is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Kuhn and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Move Well Age Well, LLC and Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, PT, DPT are not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any conclusions drawn, services or product you obtain through this video or site.