As many as 240,000 people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in Australia . It’s a chronic and systemic (whole body) inflammatory disease affecting the joints.
Symptoms include fatigue, pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of range of motion in the joints. It can make daily activities difficult and can lower overall quality of life.
An important adjunctive treatment we have available for managing rheumatoid arthritis is gentle, dynamic exercise. However, this can be a challenge for many sufferers of this disease. Pain, fatigue, and poor range of motion all make it hard to stay motivated with exercise routines.
People often ask me whether or not I should be seeking out an exercise physiologist to help me manage my rheumatoid arthritis.
I find this really depends on the severity of the symptoms for each patient because not all rheumatoid arthritis is the same.
Watch the video from the 2018 ARA conference for answers or read on...
Exercising for rheumatoid arthritis
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are ways to help alleviate the symptoms and make daily activities more manageable.
It’s a given that exercise is important for everyone. I’m sure you’ll agree with me on that.
Regular physical activity is highly beneficial for the management of many different chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, gentle dynamic exercise is thought to have a protective effect on the joint, lowering inflammation and slowing further damage to the joints. .
In one of my previous articles, Prescribing Exercise as Medicine, I noted that a lot of doctors are ill-equipped to provide non-pharmaceutical treatments for pain management. They often lack the confidence in recommending daily exercise that suits their patients' needs.
It’s an exercise physiologist and rheumatologist’s job to understand the extent of their patients’ physical activity to provide the best exercise prescription possible.
Do I Need An Exercise Physiologist?
So now that we understand why it’s important for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to exercise regularly, let’s talk about when it may be necessary to find an exercise physiologist.
If your symptoms aren’t preventing you from your regular exercise regimen and you’re confident in your exercise routine, you can carry on with what you’re doing. There is no need for an exercise physiologist.
When the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis become more severe or affect the body in areas that impede your ability to perform even gentle physical exercise, you should seek out an exercise physiologist.
I find that many people with rheumatoid arthritis are avoiding exercising because of the severe fatigue, pain, and discomfort. Sometimes, these symptoms seem worse after exercise (in the initial phase). Some have become de-conditioned from suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and the subsequent reduction in normal activity. These people have a lot to gain from incorporating an experienced exercise physiologist into their health plan.
What can an exercise physiologist do for me?
An exercise physiologist can teach you exercises and implement a routine around your physical activity. They can help you with physical activity by providing specific exercises to work around your condition. They can show you how to do these exercises without causing as much pain or discomfort, and help you manage symptoms like fatigue and loss of movement when practicing your exercises.
Low impact, gentle exercise, when performed correctly, can help improve the range of motion in your joints, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve overall health.
- Stenström, C. H., & Minor, M. A. (2003). Evidence for the benefit of aerobic and strengthening exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care & Research, 49(3), 428-434.
- Anandarajah, A. P., & Schwarz, E. M. (2004). Dynamic exercises in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 63(11), 1359-1361.