Helping you detect, treat and manage arthritis

Weightlifting improves strength and flexibility for arthritic joints

a picture of 2kg dumbbellsIn the Arthritis Olympic Village today, we’ll be talking about weightlifting! Dave Prowse, the actor who wore Darth Vader’s famous black mask and cape in the original Star Wars trilogy, is a former bodybuilder and British Heavyweight Weightlifting Champion living with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Did you know that lifting weights is actually one of the best ways to care for arthritic joints?

A journal published in Geriatric Nursing indicates that lifting weights can improve strength, flexibility, and balance for people with arthritis. When joints become stronger, the pain of arthritis is often reduced.

The “Managing arthritis with exercise” study stated that the biggest challenge is convincing patients to try doing exercises with weights. One patient said, “I was skeptical. My joints hurt, and I thought I was supposed to rest them.” Everyone can do weightlifting, not just young adults and bodybuilders. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends weight training for everyone over 50.

Barbara Resnick, PhD, a nurse practitioner at the University School of Nursing in Baltimore, provides a good summary of what you should consider when doing weight training exercises:

  • Consult your doctor and share any concerns you have, especially in regards to other health conditions that may affect your ability to participate in weight training exercises.
  • Get professional advice from a physical therapist or personal trainer. It is imperative you use the proper technique and develop a weight training exercise plan suitable for you.
  • Stretch and warm up before exercising.
  • Start with lighter weights. Do repetitions of eight to 10 and start with minimal to moderate effort. When you feel you are ready, gradually move to heavier weights.
  • Your goal should be to regain full range of motion in your joints.
  • If you have rheumatoid arthritis, rest your joints when you are experiencing a flare-up.
  • If regular weightlifting causes too much pain, try doing isometric exercises – workouts that involve pushing or pulling against an inanimate object. This will help strengthen muscle without putting any stress on joints.
  • The following signs could indicate you’ve been pushing yourself too hard: unusual or long-lasting fatigue, increased weakness, decreased flexibility, increased swelling, pain lasting for more than an hour after exercising.