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The Nine Best Exercises for You if You Have Aching Joints

Joint pain is one of the most common complaints among Americans, according to Health United States, 2006, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

gentle exercises

Low-impact exercises, like swimming, bike riding and walking, are ideal for people with any type of pain, including joint pain.

About 10 percent of U.S. women, and 7 percent of U.S. men, say they have severely painful joints, with the knee being the joint that causes the most pain.

While reports of severe joint pain increase with age, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, aging itself does not cause joint pain.

Some common causes of achy joints include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, overuse of the joint, injury to the joint and bursitis.

Because joint pain can make even everyday tasks painful, the very nature of the ailment can cause people to give up all forms of exercise.

Yet, exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your overall health -- and your joint health -- and it's just as important as you get older as it is when you're young (if not more so).

And while it's important to rest painful joints when they feel fatigued, exercise is actually beneficial for joint pain. A lack of exercise, meanwhile, can cause your joints to become even more painful and stiff.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can:

  • Strengthen the muscles and tissues around your joints

  • Help you maintain bone strength

  • Give you more strength and energy

  • Help you control your weight, which also takes pressure off of your joints

Exercise also works to relieve pain by prompting your body to release chemicals called endorphins that actually block pain signals from reaching your brain.

gentle exercises

Stretching is something that you can do daily to strengthen your joints and relieve pain. To learn 15 of the most effective stretches that take just 15-20 minutes a day to do, check out Jacques Gauthier's Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD.

"Endorphins are the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals that in many cases are more powerful than morphine," says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

The Best Exercises for People With Achy Joints

Lower impact exercises are the best for people with achy joints simply because they're easier on your joints than higher impact varieties. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of options out there, so you'll be able to find several that appeal to you.

Range-of-Motion Exercises

These help to increase your flexibility, relieve stiffness and maintain normal joint movement, and should be done daily.

  1. Yoga

  2. Dance

  3. Stretching

Stretching is particularly effective because it's known to give your joints a better range of motion, may slow the degeneration of your joints, and it helps to relieve pain.

To learn how to do the right type of stretching -- the kind that actually feel good while you do them (and after!) -- we highly recommend the Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD.

In the video, stretching expert Jacques Gauthier and his wife Dorothee Lavoie present 15 stretches that stretch all the key muscles groups throughout your entire body, and it only takes about 15-20 minutes per day total to do the complete stretching routine. Anyone who's suffering from pain should make the stretches in this video a priority.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises

These can reduce inflammation in your joints and help control your weight. Strive to do these for 20 or 30 minutes, three times a week.

  1. Walking

  2. Bike riding

  3. Elliptical machine

  4. Swimming

  5. Cross country ski machine

Strengthening Exercises

Strength training helps to keep your muscles strong, which will support and protect your joints. Do these every other day, but listen to your body. If your joints feel tired or painful, give yourself an extra day off.

(See important Weight Training article for details!)

Tips for Protecting Your Joints While You Exercise

To make sure your exercise routine is beneficial to your joints, you should take extra care to protect your joints while you exercise by:

  • Putting a hot pack on the joints you'll be working out before you exercise (for about 20 minutes). This will help to relax your joints and relieve pain before you begin.

  • Stretching or gently warming up your joints before your workout.

  • Using gentle, gradual movements, not jerky ones, while you exercise.

  • Taking a break if you notice pain (beyond your normal pain).

  • Applying a cold pack to your joints (for 10-15 minutes) after you exercise to reduce any swelling or pain.

Recommended Reading

Can Joints and Knees that Ache Really Predict a Change in the Weather?

Physical Pain: 8 Non-Drug Tactics to Eliminate Back, Joint & Other Pain


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Media Relations November 15, 2006

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