What is arthritis?

Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation.” However, arthritis also generally refers to the more than 100 rheumatic diseases and related conditions that can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints and connective tissues.

The condition also can cause deterioration of the joints' support systems. These include your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other parts of the body. About one in five American adults have been told by a doctor that they have arthritis.

Medication may be part of a recommended treatment plan for people with arthritis. Yet a tailored exercise program can also help manage pain and fatigue and preserve joint structure and function.

Once you know what type of arthritis you have and understand what symptoms you can expect, you and your doctor or physical therapist can develop a balanced program of physical activity to reduce the damaging effects of arthritis and promote overall good health.

How does exercise help relieve arthritis pain?

Stiffness, pain, and swelling associated with arthritis can severely reduce the range of motion in joints (the normal distance joints can move in certain directions). Avoiding physical activity because of pain or discomfort also can lead to significant muscle loss and excessive weight gain. Exercise, as part of a complete arthritis treatment plan, can improve joint mobility, muscle strength, overall physical conditioning, and help to maintain a healthy weight.

A tailored program that includes a balance of 3 types of exercises – range-of-motion, strengthening and endurance exercises – can relieve the symptoms of arthritis and protect joints from further damage. Exercise also may:

  • Help maintain normal joint movement.
  • Increase muscle flexibility and strength.
  • Help maintain weight to reduce pressure on joints.
  • Help keep bone and cartilage tissue strong and healthy.
  • Improve endurance and cardiovascular fitness.