Better Me

7 Tips for Easing Arthritis and Joint Pain With Exercise

When your joints hurt, the last thing you want to do is move. Arthritis can make everyday activities challenging, but staying active can help ease symptoms and improve overall quality of life.  

Exercise and movement can help with most types of arthritis, whether you have a wear-and-tear type like osteoarthritis or an inflammatory type like rheumatoid arthritis. It can also assist with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia.  

“Arthritic changes most often affect joint surfaces, which can cause swelling, stiffness and pain,” said Joseph Davis, a physical therapist with Banner Health. Exercise works to rejuvenate your joints with movement by replenishing the fluid in all our joints.” 

Exercising can help build and maintain muscle strength and control weight. Strong muscles support joints, reducing pressure and strain on them. Maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce added stress on joints. And, of course, weight loss reduces the risk for many other health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. 

Exercise is also important for mental health and well-being and has been linked to reduced anxiety and depression in people with osteoarthritis.  

Being cautious about physical activity is smart, but don’t let that keep you from living your life. Davis shares ways to workout wisely when you have arthritis and tips to get started. 

What is the best (and worst) exercise for arthritis? 

When you’re living with certain conditions like arthritis, some types of exercise may be better at promoting joint health and longevity. “General stretching and motion exercises, low-impact cardio activity and progressive strength training are key to building a program that aids in your physical tolerance and activity,” Davis said. 

The best exercises for arthritis are: 

The worst exercises for arthritis 

Some activities should be avoided unless your health care provider states otherwise. These include: 

  • Any exercise or repetitive motion that involves bending or twisting 
  • High-impact activities like running or jumping  
  • HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or CrossFit 
  • Heavy weightlifting 
  • Overstretching 

Helpful tips for exercising with arthritis 

Now that you understand the benefits and best types of exercises for arthritis, here’s how to make exercise easier: 

Work with your health care team 

You may already be aware of what type of activity best suits you, but there is no harm in speaking with your provider as they may provide additional insight.  

You might get a referral to a physical therapist or personal trainer who has experience working with people with arthritis and can help you find the best exercise plan to give you the most benefit with the least aggravation on your joints.  

Take it slow and steady  

If you are new to exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderate-intensity exercise three to five times per week. The hardest part is determining what is moderate for you. 

“If you’re going to walk, it is nice to start with a brisk walking pace for 10 minutes, two to three times per week, and see how you react,” Davis said. “If you’re only sore in your muscles for half a day to one day, then you are on the right track. After a couple of weeks, you can start increasing your distance and speed.” 

For weightlifting, start with a weight that you can lift relatively easily for up to 10 repetitions (reps), but the last two reps become difficult. This means you are at the right intensity. Repeat that exercise for two to three sets.  

Use heat 

If your joints are stiff, using heat before exercising can help. You can use warm towels or heating pads for about 15 to 20 minutes before starting your workout. It makes your muscles feel looser and easier to move.  

Warm up properly 

Before starting your workout, warm up your muscles and joints with gentle movements or light aerobic activity. Gradually extend your range of motion – don’t force it. This helps increase blood flow to your muscles, making them more flexible and less injury prone. 

Ice after your workout  

If your muscles are sore, icing can help them feel better. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel and put it on the sore spot for about 10 to 15 minutes. This helps reduce swelling and makes the soreness go away faster.  

Listen to your body  

Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. Give yourself time to rest and recover and consider modifying your workout routine as needed. 

“Stop exercising and contact your provider if you feel lightheaded, faint or experience an irregular heartbeat,” Davis said. “If you feel wiped out and sore for days, you’ve done too much. Talk to your provider or physical therapist for help.” 

Keep it up 

Make it as easy as possible to commit to movement and exercise. Set realistic goals, set an alarm or schedule time, participate in activities you enjoy and find a workout buddy for motivation.  


There’s no cure for arthritis, but exercise may be the best medicine. Remember, the goal of exercise with arthritis is to improve joint function, manage symptoms and enhance overall well-being. By following these tips and working closely with your provider, a physical therapist or a Banner Health specialist, you can develop a safe and effective exercise program that works for you. 

For related blogs, check out: 

Physical Therapy Pain Management Fitness Rheumatology