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By: Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, physical therapist and osteoarthritis specialist
The essentials of relief: Vary your exercises for joint pain
Think about when you move around throughout the day. Walking to the mailbox, heading to the kitchen for food, walking out to the car – in what direction do you constantly move? Forward.
As humans, our daily lives consist primarily of moving in one direction. This of course comes with exceptions including playing sports, working out, and other ways you deliberately move sideways or backwards.
Then if you think about exercise. If you are primarily walking, running, or cycling for exercise- what direction is that? Forward.
These exercises are not bad, and I’m not saying you should stop. Just know that when you constantly move in the same direction, you can irritate your joints. And irritated joints often lead to joint pain, arthritis, and other aches or injuries.
Why variety is vital in your routine
Every day I see clients frustrated with knee and hip osteoarthritis pain. Completing even simple daily tasks like getting dressed or walking around the grocery store is difficult for them. There is one thing that gives them hope they will feel strong and balanced again…
After years of experience helping people through osteoarthritis, I learned to approach the treatment differently, especially exercises for joint pain. I found one approach that isn’t typically recommended as a traditional way of treating osteoarthritis. Possibilities for adventure are truly possible for so many.
So what is this key to keeping your joints healthy, allowing you to continue to lead an active life as you age? The answer is variety.
What does variety look like?
Yes, you heard it. Variety.
Simple variations of exercises for joint pain are incredibly powerful.
In this case, variety essentially means finding ways to move sideways and backwards. This is especially for you if you have hip, knee, or low back pain and/or osteoarthritis. Sounds simple right?
However, what If you did the same thing every day? You would likely get irritated. Think of your joints in the same light. Moving in the same direction can cause certain parts of the joints to feel more stress than others.
But, moving sideways and backwards allows other parts of your joints to be a part of the team and absorb some of the stress. It can be as easy as side stepping while you brush your teeth, cook a meal, or even while you watch your grandchild play at the park. You can also add stepping or walking backwards if you dare!
Creativity in movement is something our population lacks. Our day to day lives don’t demand as much physical exertion as they once did.
I often find that adding variety is one of the best ways to maintain healthy joints and fend off arthritis pain. If you already have arthritis pain, variety may be exactly what you need.
5 most successful ways to add variety to exercises for joint pain
Now the question remains, how can you get variety in your day? Simply put, it is just trying to move in different ways.
One patient came to me struggling with bone on bone knee arthritis pain. Unable to walk her dogs more than a block without significant pain, she simply slowed down and limited her activity based on advice from healthcare professionals. They told her surgery was the only answer, which she wasn’t willing to accept. Neither was I.
By approaching osteoarthritis treatment differently, I offered her hope that she would be able to walk her dogs again. Variety gave her the key she needed to unlock this possibility. After adding sideways and backwards movement to her routine for six weeks she was able to walk her dogs, and to her surprise, with no pain.
The 5 best exercises for variety in movement includes:
Typically, it’s best to start with these 5 exercises. Keep in mind you want to do enough to feel fatigued afterwards. Simply stepping backwards for 15 seconds/day may not be enough, especially if your muscles aren’t tired afterwards.
When to modify activity
You may work muscles you aren′t used to working, so fatigue may happen more quickly. The idea is to continually increase your time and reps as long as you don’t experience significant pain afterwards. Slight muscle soreness is normal, but a high level of pain is not.
If you begin to experience significant pain, modify the distance you step and/or walk. Use support to offload your joints if needed. If pain persists, I recommend you seek help from a physical therapist.
The bottom line
To reap the benefits from these exercises for joint pain, consistency and discipline are essential. Aim for one to three times per day for a length of time that feels fatiguing. It may take a couple of weeks to feel a difference.
But let me tell you, the results are so worth it.
Each day I want you to ask yourself…”How I am moving in different directions today?”
Let’s start a sideways and backwards movement to take care of those joints!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Alyssa Kuhn is a physical therapist and osteoarthritis specialist. She founded Keep the Adventure Alive to show the world that an osteoarthritis diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence to everything you love doing! Dr. Kuhn helps people all around the world find pain relief, regain confidence, and reignite adventure through virtual services and online programs. She breaks through the doom and gloom and brings a fresh, positive perspective to help your arthritic joints. You can, in fact, create your own arthritis adventure, and she is on a mission to show you how. Learn more about Dr. Kuhn on her Youtube channel or website
NOTE: This article does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided here are opinions from the author and not to be construed as medical advice.
originally published Nov 15, 2021
updated Oct 15, 2022
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