Exercise: An effective prescription for joint pain

Joint pain can rob you of life's simple pleasures—you may no longer look forward to walking your dog, gardening, or chasing a tennis ball across the court. Even the basics of getting through your day, like getting into the car or carrying laundry to the basement, can become sharp reminders of your limitations.

Common causes of joint pain include arthritis, previous injuries, the strain of repetitive movements, posture problems, aging, or inactivity. It is tempting to avoid the motions that cause you pain. But limiting your movements can weaken muscles and make compound joint trouble worse.

But the right exercises performed properly can be a long-lasting way to subdue ankle, knee, hip, or shoulder pain. For some people, the right exercise routine can even help delay or side step surgery. Your goal should be to pair gentle, targeted joint workouts with a simple walking routine. Your doctor should advise you before you begin a new exercise program, but these simple stretching tips are important to any workout.

  1. Warm up first. Muscles stretch more easily when warm. Doing the warm-ups before any workout, or taking a warm shower or bath, will do the trick.
  2. Feel no pain. Stretch only to the point of mild tension, never to the point of pain. If a stretch hurts, stop doing it. Reset your position carefully and try again. With time and practice, your flexibility will improve.
  3. Breathe. Breathe comfortably when stretching.
  4. Practice often. You'll see the best gains if you do gentle stretching frequently—several times a day on as many days of the week as possible.

For more on developing and mastering an exercise plan to combat joint pain, read The Joint Pain Relief Workout, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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