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Real Life Nutrition Questions Answered

Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Emma Brown

Janet Aylott

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant


Can I exercise with arthritis without making it worse?

A month ago I was diagnosed with arthritis, which at the moment affects my lower back and left knee. I've been given medication which as helped and in the last 3 weeks I've only had pain for a day or two, the rest of the time I've been fine.

I go to a kick boxing class (1 hour per week) and an aerobics class (45 mins per week). I'd like to increase this by doing an extra class each week, and would also like to start jogging again (so I can do Race for Life, a little quicker than I did last year!). I've lost almost a stone but I'm around 3 stone overweight.

My doctor says I should exercise as long as it is not uncomfortable, but my mom says I should give up all high impact exercise and do something like yoga. She says osteoarthritis means the bones are crumbling and by doing the type of exercise I am I'll be making the condition worse.

I enjoy what I'm doing now, and want to do more not less! I don't exercise if I have pain, but if I do it only lasts for a day or 2 so then I get back on with it. What do you think? Should I give up what I'm doing? Stick to my current classes? Or increase things a little?

I know what I want to do, just want to know I won't be causing any further damage.


Our expert says...

Ok, firstly, its good to hear that you listen to your body and respect it with rest when you experience pain. Don't change that!

Osteoarthritis is not usually a progressive and crippling arthritis in the way that some other forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can be. It may begin at a very young age, so do not worry too much that it means you are "over the hill". Changes of osteoarthritis have been found in the bones of teenagers! Your mum is right to say the condition relates to bone (osteo = bone), however, stopping all impact exercise is not neccesarily the answer and just doing yoga would leave you with a battle in terms of weight loss improvement as it's not a masive calorie burner.

The right TYPE and AMOUNT of impact exercise will help to maintain the strength of the protective structures that support your joint, (ligaments and tendons), and research shows that impact exercise is crucial in the prevention of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease). Impact exercise causes synovial fluid (the lubricating oil of joints) to be produced, which covers the ends of bones at a joint, reducing friction and protecting certilage from wear and tear.

If you experience pain after a certain class then discontinue this class (at least for 2 weeks), after which you could try the same process. The reason for this is to rule out any other factors that could have brought about the pain as opposed to it being the class. With classes that repeatedly cause you pain, I would consider removing from your exercise plan. Kick boxing has the potential to be one such offender due to the exertion put through the knee joints in powerful, fast movements, so check its suitability by listening to your body in the 2-3 days post class. Obviously muscle ache is fine but joint swelling and pain (especially in your lower back and right knee is not!).

One of the most important way to prevent wear and tear of joints is to ensure the joints move properly and this requires specific strength and stabilzation training. My advice would be to see a fitness professional (at your gym if you are a member of one) who is part of REPs (the Register of Exercise Professionals), they should be anyway, and explain you want to improve the stability of your core and joints for running and to prevent osteoarthritis flare up.

Increasing your classes is fine, IF it doesnt cause you pain. That's the crucial thing! Consider incoporating non-impact classes into your weekly plan and even yoga for flexibility and relaxation. As you continue to lose weight, obviously this too will really benefit to reduce the strain on your joints. If the running doesnt cause you pain do it (start slowly), if it does cause you pain dont! Good luck! :-)


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