With one in five adults battling arthritis, including many people in their 40s and 50s, you’re likely to encounter a few clients with the condition. “Current evidence shows that one of the most helpful things anybody can do for arthritis is stay physically active,” says Lori Michiel, NASM-CPT, a certified Arthritis Foundation exercise program instructor. “Working out regularly—and with good form—can help clients with arthritis improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness and pain.” NASM’s Senior Fitness Specialist and Corrective Exercise Specialist programs give specific guidance that can help. If you’re working with clients who have osteoarthritis, take the following factors into consideration.
Benefits: Muscles help support your joints; improving muscle strength is key for people with arthritis.
Challenges: Overexertion. Pain that lasts for more than one hour after exercise is an indication that the exercise should be modified or eliminated from the routine.
Modifications: Start with light weights, resistance bands, and medicine balls. Schedule sessions when the client has the least joint pain, usually after 10 a.m. Avoid training that utilizes unstable surfaces, unless your client can safely stand on one foot for 10 seconds.
Benefits: Aerobic/endurance exercise can reduce fatigue, joint pain, and stiffness and can lead to weight loss, which reduces the stress on joints.
Challenges: Clients with arthritis need a program tailored not only to their fitness level and goals but also to their joint-pain tolerance and range of motion.
Modifications: Focus on low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, or classes specifically designed to be low impact. Incorporate moves that mimic everyday activities, such as reaching for a door. Use music and fun to distract from “normal” pain.
Flexibility/Range of Motion
Benefits: Gentle stretches and exercises that take joints through their full range of motion can help those with arthritis do everyday tasks more easily.
Challenges: People with osteoarthritis shouldn’t flex the spine; correct form is crucial for movements such as bending at the hips. Certain surgeries or injuries may further restrict movement.
Modifications: Talk to your client about any surgeries or injuries they have had. Emphasize proper form, as you would with all clients. Also suggest stretches for the hands, wrists, and fingers, which are often affected by arthritis.