Osteoarthritis and Exercise Recommendations
Why Many People with Arthritis Have a Fear of Exercise
When you have a joint affected by arthritis, it can feel risky just to move it—after all, you don’t want to exacerbate the pain.
A new study of 350 people with knee osteoarthritis found most of them feel this way. They were asked to fill out a survey about how strongly they agreed or disagreed with 6 statements examples include:
- I am afraid that I may injure myself if I exercise.
- If I were to try to overcome it, my pain would increase.
- Simply being careful that I do not make unnecessary movements is the safest thing I can do to prevent pain from worsening.
The survey revealed that 77% of participants agreed or strongly agreed with at least one of these statements, and 36% agreed with 3 or more statements, indicating a high degree of fear of movement.
Unfortunately, this tendency to fear exercise and its effects on pain levels can cause people to avoid the activity their joints need. Even when they are affected by arthritis, your joints are made to move; keeping them immobile will only cause more pain and less mobility.
Several studies confirm that fear of pain can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Those with a significant fear of pain tend to experience more pain and greater disability.
If you are fearful of exercise because you’re worried it will increase your pain levels or put you at risk for injury, try these arthritis-friendly exercise options:
- Aqua aerobics.
- Tai chi.
- Strength training
You can also make exercising easier and safer by treating arthritic joints with heat therapy before exercising, doing a proper warm-up and cool-down, and not pushing yourself. Muscle aches are normal when exercising, but stop right away if you feel any sharp, sudden pain.
1. Gunn, Alexander, BA, et al. “Fear of Movement and Associated Factors among Adults with Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis.” Accepted manuscript online 31 March 2017. DOI: 10.1002/acr.23226.
2. Somers TJ, et al. “Pain catastrophizing and pain-related fear in osteoarthritis patients: relationships to pain and disability.” J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 May; 37(5):863-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2008.05.009.
3. Ikemoto T, et al. “Relationship between biological factors and catastrophizing and clinical outcomes for female patients with knee osteoarthritis.” World J Orthop. 2017 Mar 18;8(3):278-285. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v8.i3.278.