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Real Life Nutrition Questions Answered

Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Emma Brown

Janet Aylott

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant


How should I approach exercise given my osteoarthritis?

Hi, I have osteo arthritis, in my fingers, wrists, shoulder, back and knees. I have tonight done a workout that involves sit ups, stomach crunches etc and my back hurt so I couldn't complete it. Should I avoid this sort of exercise and find something less demanding? I was only diagnosed about 3 week ago and my doctor said exercise would help so I am not sure what exercise I should be doing. Any help very much appreciated. The next morning I was expecting to be stiff and sore but I had no pain at all in my back.


Our expert says...


Your doctor is correct as exercise is one of the best things for osteoarthritis.  Ultimately, you want to reduce pain in the affected areas, improve joint function, and prevent disability, all with the ultimate goal of improving and maintaining your quality of life and exercise can greatly assist this.  

A combination of muscle strengthening, aerobic/cardio vascular exercise and flexibility is important.  As you were only recently diagnosed, over time you will realise your limitations and exercises that aren’t comfortable (as you have done when doing your sit ups). I would advise you to avoid such exercises and substitute them with appropriate alternatives, or ask a trainer at your gym to look at your technique and see if it can be altered.  Always listen to your body and don’t continue the exercise if it causes pain.

Strength training (lifting weights or using a stretchy band) will help strengthen the muscles around the affected joints. Try to complete exercises that work a group of muscles rather than one individual muscle in case it places too much stress on the joint.  To help your shoulder pain you could try shoulder press movements, lateral raises and frontal raises.  For your back you could try back extension, rotational movements and seated/upright row as these will help.  Alos, your knees will benefit from squats and lunges. Aim to complete 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions on each exercise.

Aerobic training is very beneficial as the impact from walking or running can actually help strengthen your bones.  It will also help avoid your joints ceasing up.  If you find that high impact exercise brings on pain in certain joints, swimming or water walking will help as it significantly reduces weight going through your joints. 

Flexibility/range of motion refers to the ability to move your joints through the full motion they were designed to achieve. When you have osteoarthritis, pain and stiffness make it very difficult to move certain joints more than just a little bit, which can make even the simplest tasks challenging.

Range-of-motion exercises include gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full span. Doing these exercises regularly – ideally every day – can help maintain and even improve the flexibility in your joints.  Front/back and side to side leg swings, shoulder circles forwards and backwards are some useful exercises.  It’s important not to ignore exercises for your hands and fingers.

Hand exercises can help maintain range of motion, flexibility, and strength in your hands so try the following for your wrists and hands:

No. 1: Start by holding your hand upright and pointing your wrist, fingers, and thumb upward. This also serves as the neutral starting position for many of the hand exercises that follow.  Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.  

No. 2: Keep your wrist straight in the neutral starting position and bend the base joints of your fingers, which connect the fingers to the palm. Keep your middle and end joints and your wrist straight..Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat twice daily on each hand.

No. 3: Keep your wrist and the base joints straight, and bend your middle and end joints of your fingers toward your palm, one at a time. Hold each position for five seconds. Repeat on all 10 fingers twice a day.

No. 4: Bend each finger from the base joint downward using your other hand to move your fingers. Repeat this movement using the second row of knuckles in your finger. Repeat this exercise on the third row of joints in your fingers, closest to the fingertips. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on all 10 fingers twice a day.  

No. 5: With your hand straight and fingers pointing upward, bend your fingers downward so they are touching your palm. Do not make a fist. Instead, your fingertips should be touching the palm of your hand. Hold for five seconds. Repeat on both hands twice a day.  

No. 6: Starting with your wrist, fingers, and thumb pointing upward, make an “O” by touching your index finger to your thumb. Hold this for at least 5 and up to 20 seconds. Repeat two to 10 times twice a day. 

No. 7: With your hands in the neutral position and all of your knuckles straight, slowly and gently spread your fingers as far apart as you can, like a fan opening up. From this position, make a fist. Hold each position for five seconds. Repeat on both hands twice a day.

Hope this helps,


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