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What can I do during my rheumatoid arthritis flare up?

I'm 39 and walk around 30 miles a week on top of my 'day to day' walking around. I do this mainly at lunchtime during the week, or at weekends.

However, I have rheumatoid arthritis which is usually very well controlled with diet and exercise but I'm currently experiencing a flare. I am advised to rest and do no more walking than the bare minimum for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately I am sensitive to chlorine so I can't go swimming. Can you recommend any exercise I can do instead?

It's disheartening to see my exercise calories in the red when I usually do more than my quota without any problems.



Our expert says...

Hi Tao,

During a flare up it really is recommended that you rest effectively to prevent aggravating the inflammation and causing more pain. I know you don't want to miss out on exercise when trying to reach your targets but you should listen to your body!

As every person's severity is different, here are some things that could be possible but will depend on the severity of your flare up and on which of your joints is worst affected. If you do consider trying any of the following PLEASE understand that if an exercise increases the pain....DON'T do it, it isn't worth it because it could slow the recovery from your current flare up.

In terms of cardiovascular exercise, the impact of walking could quite easily aggravate the joints like the hip and knee as we make contact with the ground. However, it may be possible that a non-impact exercise like stationary cycling may not cause the same level of aggravation and may (emphasis on the MAY!) be managable in small, gentle doses. Again, please listen to your body!

Strength exercises - bodyweight exercises (non-impact) or even resistance exercise with machines, may be possible in areas where the joints are not affected. I.e. if you suffer most with your lower limbs and your shoulders or elbows are unaffected or less affected then it may be possible for you to do some resistance exercise - chest press machine, back row machine, shoulder press machine with light weights, in a slow, controlled manner. However, please don't work through pain. Pain means NO! I know I am coming across quite strong here but the position of your joints during exercise and listening to pain is vital because you can tear muscles and cause even more pain and joint swelling if you perform them incorrectly or when the joint is flared up!

Stretching - again this is a non-impact option (known as range of motion or flexibility exercise) and people often forget that even stretching burns calories (not as many but they all count!). Stretching can also help with dealing with the tension your body can hold during times of flare up when the pain is there as a constant reminder. Again, ideally stretch muscles that do not attach/impact on a joint that is inflammed but see which ones feel comfortable and which don't. Hold stretches for 30seconds and don't bounce while holding the stretch, it should be static. Stretching can be done daily, and it is recommended that you do it at least every other day, (when not suffering with a flare up), to help relieve stiffness and keep joints flexible. Flexibility may improve functioning and reduce the chance of injury.

I am sorry that I can't give you a definate solution, but with immune-diseases (which is how rheumatoid arthritis is classified) rest really is the BEST solution, the majority of the time. Good luck with finding an option that may be appropriate for you and either way I wish you a quick arrival to the end of your current flare up.


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