• Exercise is important for people with muscle, bone and joint conditions
  • There are many different types of exercise to choose from including walking, swimming, tai chi, yoga, gentle strength training, Nordic walking and bike riding
  • Exercise programs should be planned in consultation with your doctor, physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or fitness professional

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Muscle, bone and joint conditions (eg osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and back pain) can cause pain, stiffness and often inflammation in one or more joints or muscles. Regular exercise can help you reduce some of these symptoms and improve joint mobility and strength.   

If you have a condition that affects your muscles, bones or joints, you should have a balanced and regular exercise routine. If you are not sure which exercises are suitable for you, be guided by your doctor or other health professional, such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.  

There are many different forms of exercise to choose from. The type that will be best for you will depend on your personal preference, the severity of your symptoms and whether or not you have other forms of arthritis or other chronic conditions.

Activities that can be beneficial include walking, swimming, hydrotherapy, tai chi, yoga, gentle strength training, and bike riding.

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Benefits of exercise 

Regular exercise has many benefits. Exercise can:

  • facilitate joint nourishment
  • build muscle strength
  • improve balance
  • help you get a good night’s sleep
  • improve your mood
  • ease pain and joint stiffness and improve flexibility
  • reduce joint deformity and improve posture
  • prevent or manage osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) by maintaining bone density
  • improve overall health and fitness 
  • lower stress levels
  • help maintain a healthy body weight.

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Types of exercise  

Although pain and fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to exercise, it is a very effective treatment for muscle, bone and joint conditions. You should aim to do some form of physical activity every day. If you're just starting out, it’s important to start slowly and not push too hard from the outset. Build up your strength and stamina over a period of time. 

The exercise you choose should ideally help with:

  • flexibility – stretching and range of movement exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles. They will help keep your joints moving properly and ease joint stiffness   
  • strength – to build muscle strength, provide continuous  stability to your joints and improve your ability to perform daily tasks
  • overall fitness – exercise that gets you moving and increases your heart rate (eg walking, swimming, cycling) will help improve the health of your heart and lungs (cardiovascular system) and can also help with endurance, weight loss, prevention of other health problems (eg diabetes). This type of exercise is also called aerobic exercise, cardiovascular exercise or ‘cardio’.

Many types of exercise can help with flexibility, strength and overall fitness at the same time, including:

  • swimming or water exercise classes
  • tai chi
  • walking or Nordic walking (walking with Nordic poles)
  • chair exercises
  • low-impact aerobics
  • strength training
  • dancing.

The exercise you choose should be something you enjoy and you're committed to doing. Consider exercising with friends, in a group or a team environment if you find it difficult to get motivated.

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Water exercise

Warm water exercise is a particularly helpful form of exercise. The water supports your body and the resistance provided by moving through water boosts muscle strength and endurance.

Water exercise involves exercising in a pool, usually heated, and may also be called ‘hydrotherapy’. There are several ways you can exercise in water. The most suitable type of water exercise for you depends on a number of factors such as the type of muscle, bone or joint condition you have, how it affects you, your fitness level, your physical ability and your interests. 

The types of water exercise you can choose include:

  • hydrotherapy – a type of exercise therapy offered by physiotherapists as one-on-one sessions for individuals or in small groups. Exercises are more specific for your condition, injury or situation. 
  • gentle water exercise classes – some fitness or recreation centres offer gentle water exercise programs suitable for older adults or people with health conditions such as arthritis. All participants follow the same general exercises in a fun, group environment. 
  • swimming laps at your local pool can also help.

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Starting a water exercise program

Venues that may run warm water exercise classes include recreation centres, fitness centres, public swimming pools and retirement villages. 

Things you can do before you choose a class include: 

  • talk with your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist about the class and whether it is right for you.
  • contact the various fitness and recreation centres in your local area to find out what sort of warm water classes are on offer.
  • check out the venue to see if it’s suitable for you. For example, is the pool easy to access? Are the change rooms accessible and comfortable? Is the venue close enough for you to go to regularly?
  • before choosing a class, make sure it’s appropriate to your level of fitness and ability. 
  • you may like to watch a class or two from the sidelines.

Alternatively instead of, or as well as joining a class, you might use the pool facilities and a water exercise program that has been designed for you by a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist and exercise on your own.

There are many different options available so that you can exercise in water and get the associated health benefits. 

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Pool safety

Once at the pool, safety suggestions include:

  • warm up – a good way to do this is to swim gently or go for a walk through the water. Be guided by your instructor or by the exercise program that has been designed for you
  • if you feel light-headed, sick or dizzy at any stage, get out of the water
  • take care when moving in wet areas around the pool, including in change rooms, to avoid slipping and falls
  • perform each movement as gracefully and smoothly as you can
  • keep the body part you are exercising under the water. This may require you to squat or bob down at times.

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Tai chi

There is good evidence to support the effectiveness of tai chi for people with muscle, bone and joint conditions. Tai chi is a low-impact, slow-motion exercise, with gentle, usually circular movements. When doing tai chi, your muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, and your joints are not fully extended or bent. Because of this, it is suitable for most people.

Tai chi:

  • promotes correct body posture and balance
  • integrates the body and mind
  • uses gentle and circular movements
  • is easy to learn  
  • is enjoyable.
You can learn tai chi from books and DVDs, however most people find it easier to learn from a qualified instructor. Books and DVDs are useful to help you practise between classes. 

Before starting a tai chi class:

  • talk to your doctor about whether tai chi is suitable for you. 
  • make sure your instructor is qualified, and understands and takes special care of people with arthritis. MOVE muscle, bone & joint health can help you find suitable instructors. 

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Exercise cautions and suggestions

Your doctor or exercise professional can give you exercise advice that is specific to you and your particular conditions(s) and situation.

General suggestions on safe exercising include:

  • talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you have had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon or health professional which movements you should limit or avoid   
  • pre-exercise screening is used to identify people with medical conditions that may put them at a higher risk of a experiencing a health problem during physical activity. It is a filter or ‘safety net’ to help decide if the potential benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for you. Print a copy of an adult pre-exercise screening tool (www.essa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Screen-tool-version-v1.1.pdf) and discuss it with your doctor or exercise professional
  • don’t exercise a painful, inflamed or hot joint. Instead, gently move the joint through its range of movement to help reduce stiffness and improve circulation
  • start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months
  • warm up thoroughly beforehand. Cool down after exercise with gentle, sustained movements
  • pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of motion
  • don’t try to do too much too soon. If you feel out of breath, slow down
  • if your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session
  • if an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what is normal, then stop this activity
  • drink plenty of fluids during and after exercising
  • increase incidental activity in your lifestyle. For example, walk to nearby shops instead of driving. 

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Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Physiotherapist
  • Exercise physiologist
  • Community health centre
  • Local fitness or aquatic centre
  • MOVE muscle, bone & joint health
  • Help Line Tel. 1800 263 265  

Things to remember

  • Exercise is important for people with muscle, bone and joint conditions
  • There are many different types of exercise to choose from including walking, swimming, tai chi, yoga, gentle strength training, Nordic walking and bike riding
  • Exercise programs should be planned in consultation with your doctor, physiotherapist, exercise physiologist, or fitness professional

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More information

Need information regarding your condition and commonly prescribed treatments? Or assistance navigating the health, disability and social services systems?  Do you want to speak to someone who has a chronic musculoskeletal condition, and can understand what you are going through? Contact our Help Line on 1800 263 265. 

Interested in finding out about our upcoming webinars and seminars and other events. Click here to learn more.

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This information has been provided by the Better Health Channel and has been produced in consultation with and approved by: MOVE muscle, bone & joint health Ltd.

Move - muscle, bone and joint health, the new voice of Arthritis Victoria

Welcome to MOVE muscle, bone & joint health, the new voice of Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria.

We may have a new name but since 1968 we have been the leading provider of supported solutions and trusted knowledge to the one-in-three Australians who live with these conditions.

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