Rheumatoid arthritis affects the flexibility in our joints, ligaments and tendons. By increasing your flexibility you can improve range of motion and reduce some of the stiffness associated with arthritis and the afflicted joints. Increasing your flexibility improves mobility during everyday activities, and may enhance performance in aerobic and strength training.
There are two types of stretching that patients with arthritis can benefit from:
Static Stretching targets a specific joint or joints and includes holding each exercise for at least 20 seconds with a short rest in between. These exercises can be performed by nearly anyone, and once learned are easy to do on your own at home or the gym.
Dynamic Stretching warms up the joints and reduces muscle tension. It begins slowly and increases in speed and intensity. This type of stretching prepares the body for activity by increasing blood flow and muscle temperature.
The Arthritis Foundation outlines some beginner static stretching exercises to help patients with arthritis. It’s recommended to warm up before stretching, by walking slowly or marching in place for 3 to 5 minutes.
Static Stretches – Hold each exercise for at least 20 seconds.
- – Calf Stretch. Lean against a wall or chair for support and place one foot in front and one in back, keeping your toes pointed forward. Slightly bend your front knee, never letting it go beyond your toe. Press the heel of your back foot into the ground. Keep your head and spine up straight, and then repeat on the other side.
- – Seated Hamstring Stretch. Start by sitting on the edge of a bench, chair or other low firm surface. Extend one leg out straight with toes pointing up. Place your hands on the opposite leg, and keeping your back straight lean forward until you feel a stretch along the back of your straight leg, and then repeat on the other side.
- – Seated Hip Flexor and Quadriceps Stretch. Sit on the side of a chair and gently move one leg back behind your body. Tuck your buttocks tightly under your hips and sit up straight. You’ll feel the stretch on the front of your hip and upper thigh. Slide to opposite side of table or chair and repeat on the other side.
It’s important to stretch before your workout. Arthritis Today breaks down some dynamic stretches to help increase flexibility and prepare your muscles for activity.
- – Hip Circles. Standing on one leg, using a table or chair for support, gently swing your free leg in circles out to the side. Complete 20 circles in each direction and then switch sides. As your flexibility increases make the circles larger.– Arm Swings. Stand with arms reaching out front parallel to the floor with palms facing down. Walk forward as you swing your arms in unison in one direction, drawing a circle in the air. Keep your torso and head forward, and only move at the shoulder joints. Repeat five times in both directions.– High-Stepping. Stand with feet shoulder distance apart and parallel to each other. Step forward with one leg, then raise your opposite knee up toward your chest and use one or both hands to pull the knee closer to your chest and pause. Put leg down in front and repeat with other leg. High step five times on each leg.
Remember to listen to your body when stretching. If something hurts, stop. Consult a doctor before starting any new exercise routine.