Arthritis & Strength Training: How it helps

Arthritis & Strength Training: How It Helps

Arthritis & Strength Training guide

Wake up in the morning feeling like… the Tin Man?

Creaky, painful, stiff joints. Movement feels hard. You might even feel achier when it rains or gets cold.

Sound like you? You might have arthritis. You and 58 million other US adults. (CDC)

In this article, we discuss the impact arthritis has on joints and how strength training can improve the quality of life for those who deal with the disease. For the purpose of this article, we focus specifically on arthritis of a few major joints – the knee and hip; however, the information can be applied to most affected joints. Let’s dive in…

Jump to a Topic

  1. What is Arthritis?
  2. Osteoarthritis
  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis
  4. Dangers of Arthritis
  5. Strength Training & Arthritis
  6. Next Steps

What is Arthritis?

Simply put, arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Those who have arthritis commonly experience symptoms such as pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and swelling. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of joints to the extent where movement becomes painful. In the case of the knees, arthritis typically occurs when the padding between the upper and lower leg bones (the femur and tibia) is partially or completely worn out, allowing for direct bone-to-bone contact.

The wear and tear can ultimately lead to chronic pain, uneven walking, compromised mobility, and disability.

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis has become so common that it's now synonymous with aging in general.

Over 22 million Americans between 25-74 years old have moderate to severe osteoarthritis. It can develop as the result of chronic overuse (i.e. arthritis in the knees of long-time runners), past injuries (especially fractures and ACL tears), or chronically incorrect movement patterns (i.e. bowed legs).

Rheumatoid Arthritis

“Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.” (CDC)

Unlike osteoarthritis, RA isn’t caused by wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system is triggered and the body attacks itself, affecting the lining of the joints.

The results of RA can also cause more extreme issues such as joint deformity and bone erosion.

Doctor diagnosing arthritis in the hand

Dangers of Arthritis

Think of arthritis as a spectrum when looking at the symptoms, treatments, and results.

According to the CDC, 49.6% of seniors have diagnosed arthritis. Some people can continue with day-to-day activities with no issues and find their arthritis more of an inconvenience. Whereas others experience life-changing events and debilitating pain as a result of the disease.

Joint Replacement Surgery

Although surgery isn’t the first step in treating arthritis, it is a common final step for older adults and those who have years of damage to their joints.

The hip joint, for example, is one of the most common sites for arthritis. It’s especially common for people who have experienced years of more-than-normal force on the joint.

These individuals typically have a background in athletics, dance, distance running, or people who have been obese.

With arthritis, people lose hip mobility, the joint feels tight, stiff, and painful, and about a third of people with hip arthritis get a joint replacement [4].

Living With Pain

The Arthritis Foundation says, “Many people who have arthritis or a related disease may be living with chronic pain. Pain is chronic when it lasts three to six months or longer, but arthritis pain can last a lifetime. It may be constant, or it may come and go.”

For instance, someone with a less severe form of arthritis might carry heavy groceries without issue, but someone with severe arthritis and chronic pain may experience tremendous elbow pain and need to take lighter loads or get assistance to alleviate that burden on their elbow.

The Mayo Clinic states that “destructive mind-body interactions” including depression can be a result of living with the pain of arthritis if left untreated.

Losing Independence

About one in every 14 seniors require personal care assistance, according to the CDC. About one in every six adults age 85 years and older live in a nursing home.

The loss of independence is due to a few factors and arthritis is one of them. Being a prevalent source of pain, arthritis can limit physical abilities like walking upstairs, washing your hair, or carrying groceries–and could lead to relying on others more and more.

Strength is one of the biggest factors in determining how well we can physically function.

Woman Strength Training with Arthritis

Strength Training and Arthritis

The diagnosis of arthritis is not a guarantee of future disability. Lifestyle habits play a key role. Fortunately, you do have a say in how and if the disease progresses. With that in mind, let's dive into the research to see how strength training can help.

Men and women 55 years or older with knee arthritis participated in four months of strength training in one study [1]. The program featured two workouts per week using lower body exercises (i.e. leg press, leg curl, leg extension, etc.).

After starting with three weeks of easy to moderately challenging weights, the program featured relatively challenging resistances on the exercises.

As you would expect, the four-month program was effective in increasing strength:

  • the arthritic knees became 71% stronger.
  • pain and function improved… significantly.
  • pain decreased 41% while function increased 44%.

With less pain and an improved ability to use their knees, you can imagine that the participating men and women were happy with their results.

A second study looked at strength training with women over a six-month span [3]. The women in this study also used challenging weight loads but this time, slower repetition speeds (6-9 seconds per rep) were implemented.

The exercises were all lower body-based: the leg press, calf raises, leg curls, leg extensions, hip adduction, and hip abduction.

As a result of the study, the women:

  • improved their leg strength
  • reduced their arthritic pain
  • improved leg function
  • the rate of disability among the women decreased

The researchers stated that improving strength of the muscles around the knee is especially important for maintaining normal bone alignment, which is critical to preventing future disability. Specifically, they targeted the quadriceps as the key muscle group for those with knee arthritis to do custom exercises for.

Members of The Perfect Workout can target specific muscle groups like the quadriceps in their hand-picked exercises customized by a trainer for their needs.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Strength Training

Many RA patients are less physically active than their healthy counterparts (2). However, strength training will not worsen rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, experts and physicians overwhelmingly recommend it. An increase in strength means the muscles can better support your joints.

Additionally, RA can accelerate sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass with age, which in turn accelerates the loss of bone mass. In RA, this is called rheumatoid cachexia. It is especially important, then, for individuals with this condition to participate in regular, safe, effective strength training like at The Perfect Workout to prevent both muscle and bone loss.

Strength Training Helps Arthritis, Now What?

If you struggle with arthritis symptoms, we suggest performing regular (1 to 2x per week) high-intensity slow-motion strength training workouts.

The Perfect Workout trainers are certified in our SuperSlow method to ensure your workout is tailored specifically to your needs while providing the absolute safest method of resistance training.

Our method's enhanced safety is due to the slow movement, which minimizes the force produced on your joints and maximizes the muscular effort at the same time. This muscular challenge results in the body adapting with increased muscular strength.

Simply put, you don't have to accept arthritis as the end to a high quality of life and the activities you enjoy. Effective strength training improves the strength of the muscles supporting the joint, reduces arthritic pain, and helps prevent future disability.

If you would like to learn more about our method of strength training, read about our methodology. If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and book a FREE Introductory Session.

  1. Baker, K. R., Nelson, M. E., Felson, D. T., Layne, J. E., Sarno, R., & Roubenoff, R. (2001). The efficacy of home based progressive strength training in older adults with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Rheumatology, 28, 1655-166.
  2. Cooney JK, Law RJ, Matschke V, et al. Benefits of exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. J Aging Res. 2011;2011:681640. Published 2011 Feb 13. doi:10.4061/2011/681640 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042669/)
  3. Foroughi N., Smith R. M., Lange, A. K., Baker, M. K., Fiatarone Singh, M.A., & Vanwanselle, B. (2011). Lower limb muscle strengthening does not change frontal plane moments in women with knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Biomechanics, 26, 167-174.
  4. Quintana, J.M., Arostegui, I., & Escobar, A. (2008). Prevalence of knee and hip osteoarthritis and the appropriateness of joint replacement in an older population. JAMA Internal Medicine, 168(14), 1576-1584.
Trainer coaching woman on the Lat Pulldown machine

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