Encouraging Exercise in Arthritis Patients

Although exercise is routinely recommended for people with arthritis, it’s often difficult for them. For this reason, strategies for promoting exercise in arthritis patients were addressed at a recent meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. Although the remarks were directed at physicians, they can be quite useful in helping arthritis patients discuss exercise with their doctors.

According to Daniel Clauw, MD, although fatigue is common in arthritis patients, few physicians evaluate it. The most effective treatment for fatigue, he said, is exercise, which has been shown to have very few adverse effects. However, as another presenter, David Williams, MD, pointed out, arthritis patients commonly face barriers that make it difficult for them to exercise, and recommending exercise without confronting those obstacles can be frustrating for patients. The physician, therefore, needs to engage in a dialogue devoted to “problem solving.” He advised doctors to discuss exercise as often as they discuss medications. To guide these conversations, Dr. Williams advocated using the F.I.T.T. principle — that is, discussing Frequency, Intensity, Time (duration), and Type of exercise.

Other strategies suggested were the use of a step counter (a pedometer, for example) and fitting in additional physical activity, such as using stairs instead of an elevator and parking further away. Advising patients about educational resources that are available online was also advised. One key message for physicians was not to prescribe specific exercises for their arthritis patients. It’s better, Dr. Williams said, for the patient to determine what’s realistically possible.

Want to learn more about exercising with pain? Read “Exercise 101: Finding the Right Exercise for Pain Relief,” “Hiking With Arthritis,” and “Time for Yoga: Yoga Benefits for Arthritis.”

Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

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