Strength Training

Exercise aimed at increasing muscle strength. Strength training can help people with arthritis to reduce joint pain, improve balance and coordination, and prevent injury. Strong muscles around joints can absorb some of the forces created by twisting, turning, and placing weight on the joints, thus helping to support and protect them. In strength training, you work muscles harder than they are used to working, and over time they adapt to the extra work by becoming stronger. There are two types of strengthening exercises: isometric and isotonic. Isometric exercise involves tensing muscles without moving joints. One example is gripping a ball to strengthen muscles in your hands. Isotonic exercise involves moving limbs and joints against resistance. This is the type of strengthening you do when you use weights, elastic bands, or weight machines.

Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist before you begin strength training. They can determine which exercises are safe and appropriate for you and help you work out a plan to meet your goals. If you have been inactive, you may need to start with flexibility and stretching exercises before you try strengthening exercises. If you have any unstable joints, you may need to avoid isotonic exercises that work those joints and use isometric exercises instead. If you’d like to use weight machines at a health club, talk to a qualified trainer at the club. Explain that you have arthritis, and ask the trainer to show you how to use the equipment properly. Strength training should be done two to three times a week, with a day of rest between sessions. Strengthening exercises may cause muscle soreness a day or two afterward, but they should not cause joint pain. If you feel joint pain, stop exercising and talk to your doctor or physical therapist. People with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus should not do isotonic strengthening exercises during a flare.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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