According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 15 million people live with severe joint pain which is defined as discomfort or inflammation from any part of a joint including cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Joint pain can cause serious pain, stiffness and swelling and limits a person’s ability to perform basic functions, compromising their quality of life.
Many people with joint pain stop their fitness regimen. However, if a person avoids exercise, they may risk losing muscle mass and gaining extra weight due to inactivity. This extra weight could end up putting even more pressure on the joints. In addition, tendons, ligaments, and supporting structures could also deteriorate due to lack of use. The only way to prevent this decline is to start a physical fitness program that will help manage pain and preserve joint structures.
The three essential components of an ideal physical fitness program include:
- Flexibility: Flexibility is improved by taking muscles through full range of motion and holding the position at or near extreme range of motion for a few seconds without experiencing too much discomfort. An increase in flexibility will lead to an improved range of motion and decrease in pain and discomfort. Flexibility exercises to improve joint flexibility include:
- Walking hip openers: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lift one knee to your chest. Make a circle with your knee, bringing it across your body and then out to the side. Replace foot on the floor. Repeat 10 times on each side.
- T-spine windmills: Lie on the floor on your side. Bend your knees and hips to just past 90 degrees, resting your knees beside you on the floor. Straighten your bottom leg and rest your top leg on a foam roller or a towel without changing its position. Extend both your arms together along the floor, straight out in front of your body. Slowly lift your top arm and rotate it away from you, opening your chest to the ceiling. Hold this position for 3 seconds and slowly bring it back to touch your other hand. Repeat 5 times on each side.
- Neck half circles: Tilt your head to one side until you feel a stretch. Slowly roll your head forward to bring your chin to your chest, only go as far as you can without pain. Continue to roll your head to the other side until you feel a stretch along the opposite side of your neck.
- Ankle rolls: Individually rotate each ankle in a circular motion.
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- Endurance: Endurance is improved by performing cardio exercises that are not too stressful on joints. These exercises are known to promote weight loss, which in turn reduces stress on your joints, particularly hips and knees. Cardio exercises that are perfect for improving joint pain include swimming, elliptical training, cycling and speed walking.
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- Strength Training: Strength training can be performed by using light weights that are appropriate for your fitness level as well as calisthenics or free hand exercises such as body weight squats. Performing low impact, weight bearing exercises will help strengthen the muscles around the joints which provide them with extra support. Strength training exercises that are perfect for improving joint pain include:
- One Leg Balance: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Shift all your weight to one foot without the knee being locked. Lift the opposite foot off the ground and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with opposite leg.
- Superman: Lie face down on the ground with your arms out in front. Using your core muscles arch your back slightly while lifting your arm and legs above the ground. Hold position for about 10 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.
- Squat: Stand with your toes pointing forward and feet shoulder width apart. Lower yourself while keeping your back straight until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for a second and return slowly to upright position. Repeat 10 times.
Aside from improved heart health and mobility, incorporating these three essential components of an ideal physical fitness program will ultimately improve joint pain and quality of life.