For many arthritis sufferers, the pain begins the moment we wake up in the morning. This can set a negative tone for the day, evoking feelings of frustration, hopelessness and isolation. There, are, however, some simple exercises that can help – and you can do them straight from the comfort of your bed!
Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can prevent and alleviate arthritis pain and stiffness by lubricating the joints, as well as enhancing and maintaining range of motion. You can look forward to increased mobility, which will make carrying out daily tasks easier, alongside improved mood and wellbeing.
So, what does the research say? Does exercise help arthritis? One UK study conducted a randomised trial to explore the benefits of stretching and strengthening on rheumatoid arthritis of the hands and wrists. Patients were split into two groups – usual care and usual care plus an individualised exercise programme.
Usual care consisted of joint protection education, general exercise advice and functional splinting if required, while the exercise programme incorporated six sessions of strengthening and stretching exercises with a hand therapist, daily home exercises and strategies to maximise adherence. There was a statistically significant difference in favour of the exercise programme, with the results of the trial suggesting that the addition of an exercise programme is clinically effective.
Of course, you should always consult your doctor or physical therapist before attempting any new home arthritis stretches as they will be able to advise on whether the exercises are safe and appropriate. What’s more, ensure you undertake them at your own pace.
Exercises for arthritis in the hands, fingers and wrists
There are a number of simple and effective hand exercises for arthritis that can help strengthen muscles that support the hand joints, enabling you to move with less pain and discomfort. Try incorporating these into your morning routine:
- Make a fist: Slowly curl your hand into a fist with your thumb on the outside. Hold for several seconds (but not too tightly) and then stretch your hand back out. Do this several times, before switching hands.
- Wrist turn: For wrist-related pain, Versus Arthritis recommends bending your elbow to 90 degrees with your palm facing down, then rotating your forearm so that your palm faces up and then down.
- Finger bends: Hold your hand out with your fingers straight. Bend your thumb down toward your palm, hold for a few seconds and straighten your thumb back up. Then bend your index finger down toward your palm, hold for a couple of seconds and straighten your finger back up. Repeat with each finger and then with your other hand.
Exercises for arthritis in the neck, shoulders and elbows
- Arm circles: This stretch is usually done standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart, but you can also do it while sitting in bed. Sit with your back straight and raise and extend your arms to the sides (without bending your elbows). Slowly rotate your arms forward using small, controlled motions, gradually making the circles bigger until you feel a stretch. After about 10 seconds, reverse the direction of the circles. You can watch a video demonstration here.
- Crossover arm stretch: Relax your shoulders and gently pull one arm across your chest as far as possible, holding at your upper arm. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds and then relax. Repeat with the other arm. You can watch a video demonstration here.
- Chin tucks: This exercise will strengthen both the front and back of your neck muscles. Sit upright in bed with your neck and shoulders in a relaxed position. Gently pull your chin and head back until you feel a stretch. Hold this position for around five seconds, then bring your chin forward again and repeat. You can watch a video demonstration here.
Exercises for arthritis in the back, hips and knees
Osteoarthritis commonly affects our weight-bearing joints. To manage the pain, check out these simple exercises for arthritis in the knees, hips and back. You may prefer to move from your bed to the floor.
- Pelvic tilt: The pelvic tilt strengthens your core, which provides support for the rest of the body. It’s a good choice if you experience lower back pain. Simply lie on your back with your knees bent and toes facing forward, flatten your back by tightening your abdominal muscles and bend your pelvis up slightly. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat. You can watch a video demonstration here.
- Knee rolls: Lie on your back with a cushion supporting your head. Bend your knees and keep them together and gently tuck in your chin. Roll your knees to one side, followed by your pelvis, while keeping both shoulders on the bed. Hold the stretch for a couple of seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat by rolling your knees to the other side. You can watch a video demonstration here.
- Knee to chest stretch: This lower body stretch can increase flexibility in your lower back, hips and buttocks. Lie in the supine position (on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed). Bring one knee into your hands and gently let your arms pull your knee toward your chest. Hold, then lower your bent leg. Relax, then repeat with the other leg. You can watch a video demonstration here.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. How have these stretches helped your condition? What are your favourite arthritis exercises? Get in touch via our Facebook community page, Together For Better Days.