The research is clear: Exercise is one of the most important things all of us can do to preserve our health. For patients with arthritis, exercise is a treatment as well as a preventative measure. A regime of appropriate stretches can help to improve range of motion and ease the stiffness and pain of arthritic joints.
Cold, snowy weather may restrict some exercise habits, but these stretches can easily be done at home. If you work through them slowly and stay within your own abilities, you can start to see joint mobility improvement before two weeks have gone by.
- Neck exercises. We have two easy exercises to loosen neck muscles and relieve stress. Start in a sitting or standing position, and then roll your head around in large circles. Then, bend your head so that your left ear moves toward your left shoulder. When you’ve bent your head as far as you comfortably can, hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat on your right.
- Loosen your shoulders. Sit or stand with your head erect, then shrug your shoulders up to 20 times. Afterwards, reach up with your arms and stretch as high as you comfortably can.
- Limber up hands and wrists. As you sit at a table or relax on the couch, roll your hands around in circles to keep wrist joints loose. To address finger joints, make a fist and hold for a two-second count, and then stretch your fingers out as straight and wide as you can without straining for a four-second count. Repeat as often as you like, or at several different times during the day.
- Gentle bends for your back. Take your time and concentrate on slow, fluid movements for these exercises. Standing with feet at shoulder length apart, try slow side bends on one side, then the other. Then, stand about two feet from a wall, facing away from it. Turning first to your left and then to your right, attempt to touch the wall with your hands. Begin by reaching for the wall at shoulder height. As you become more limber, attempt to touch the wall closer to waist level.
- Stretch your hips. Sit in a chair with your back straight. Hold the seat of the chair with your hands to steady yourself, then straighten and lift first one leg, then the other. The higher you can raise your leg, the stronger the hip stretch will be. Try to repeat this stretch at least five times with each leg.
- Care for your knees. Squats are a great way to strengthen knees, but if you need a simpler stretch to start, we have one for you. Sit in a chair, and bend one knee at a time, bringing it up and as close to your body as you comfortably can with your arms.
- Ankle stretch. While seated, rotate your ankles in circles to coax away aches. Also try rocking your feet back and forth, first lifting your toes, and then rolling your foot forward so that your heels rise from the floor.
These exercises are designed to coax movement back into major joints, including your neck, back, hips, knees, and shoulders. When you feel ready, add walking to your routine to increase your benefits. Although these stretches are intended to improve joint motion within ten days, it’s important to begin within limits that are comfortable for you, and not to push yourself beyond your limits. If you have any concerns, consult your doctor before you begin.