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Exercise and Arthritis

Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Is it Possible to Exercise with an Arthritic Hip?

picture of dancing woman

Keep on Dancing

Dear Twins: I just found your site and already feel encouraged. I am 56 years old and have been an ‘off again…on again” exerciser!! When I was much younger I was very athletic. Four years ago I trained to walk a 1/2 marathon but the week before the race, I pulled ligaments in my ankle. Since then I haven’t done much of anything.

About 6 weeks ago I began going to Zumba classes 2-3 times a week. Three weeks ago I began to have a lot of pain in my hips. I went to the doctor and was told I have arthritis in my hips and I also had bursitis. My doctor told me to lay off Zumba for two weeks and gave me a prescription to help with inflammation. He told me that I will probably have to take the medication long term to help with the arthritis but the pain from the bursitis will go away after a week or so. I have tried to go back to the Zumba classes but I am concerned the pain will start back up or get worse. I am in really good health otherwise.

Can you advise me as to the risks I would take if I continued to do the Zumba? Also, what other cardio activities can I do that will be okay with my arthritis in my hips? I really feel my best when I am exercising and just started to feel good and have more energy when the pain started. Any suggestions you may have would help!!

Carla, Abilene, TX

x-ray picture of hipsYour question is an excellent one, and will resonate with many of our readers. You are right about the many benefits of exercise, including for arthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, arthritis can be slowed or mitigated with exercise – the challenge is finding the right type.

Low Impact Cardio

If your doc has cleared you to return to Zumba, you may want to ease in and modify the lateral moves (sideways, such as grapevine). Are you able/ willing to add aqua classes to your workout plan? Zumba aqua dance classes exist. You do not need to be a good swimmer to join an aqua class. Shallow water classes are in water that’s generally hip deep. If your gym has only deep water classes, you can use swim lessons as your workout, then wear the buoyancy belts once you’re a more confident swimmer.
For other cardio options, try anything that is low impact (high intensity is fine, but NOT high impact) and more forward and back than side to side. One caveat – depending on where the arthritis is in your hips, spending a lot of time on a machine such as a stair-stepper could be contraindicated. Besides, you seem to be a person who enjoys group fitness classes, so try a variety of those. A varied exercise plan is more effective than a repetitive one for most people.

Strength Training

You might also consider some stretch and strengthen classes. Stretch to open up the hips and strengthen to give your muscles more  of the workload, which eases the load on your skeletal structure (bones). Since you mention a ligament injury to your ankle, I would think strengthening that area might be a priority, especially if compensations are affecting your hips. Have you worked with a physical therapist to strengthen that ankle, while considering the impact on your hips (such as an altered gait)? You can probably even find a therapist who is ALSO a personal trainer by searching at ideafit.com or acefitness.org.

Range of Motion (ROM)

In addition to low-impact cardio and strength training, you may want range of motion exercises too. This article from Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center goes into more detail about everything mentioned above, including the need for tailored, specific range of motion activities.

Rest

Rest is an integral part of any exercise regimen, arthritis or no! Check with your doctor about creating the right combo of rest time, anti-inflammatory meds, ice, and possibly even meditation.

Partner with your Doctor

We’ve had good luck getting specific advice for our exercise-loving bodies by choosing primary care doctors who also value exercise. We’ve had some doctors who wanted to prescribe medicine for our arthritic knees. Their advice was to stop exercising. We switched to doctors who used medication as a last resort and aligned with our preference to keep moving. We are not advocating dumping your doc or ignoring his advice; we are advocating getting into a partnership with your doctor so that he can work WITH you to create a plan that includes exercise.

This quote is from Mayo: “Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff. Talk to your doctor about how exercise can fit into your current treatment plan. What types of exercises are best for you depends on your type of arthritis and which joints are involved. Your doctor or a physical therapist can work with you to find the best exercise plan to give you the most benefit with the least aggravation of your joint pain.”

As women who are similar to you – arthritic joints, exercise-loving, youthful minds, mid-50s – we know it’s possible to keep moving. We just have to be pickier than we were 30 years ago. There IS a solution, and your positive attitude will be a big part of it! Please keep us posted. Happy dancing.

Please share this article via Twitter, Facebook or Google+. Thank you.

Photo credits / Morgue File: X-Ray of hips: xandert; Dancing woman: Earl53

About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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19 Responses to Exercise and Arthritis

  1. Jennifer F July 21, 2014 at 4:42 am #

    Great post, I will share with friends suffering from arthritis
    Jennifer F recently posted..How ZMA Can Help Female Athletes & Swanson Vitamin #GiveawayMy Profile

  2. Pamela Hernandez July 21, 2014 at 4:48 am #

    Great advance to work on strength and range of motion! May clients who come to me with arthritis skip strength because they think it makes it worse. When I show them how to do it safely it helps decrease their pain.
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted..What is the Optimal Workout Week Ep 112My Profile

  3. Kathleen July 21, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    Great advice. Daily exercise, either weights or walking, really helps keep my hip and knee arthritis in check. (And my hip OA was so severe I had to have a hip replacement last December.) Working with a physical therapist afterward really helped. I still do the ball squats (ball against the wall) he taught me. And I find I can wake up stiff and achy and ten minutes into a walk, the stiffness disappears! One other thing has helped me a lot: diet. I tried an elimination diet and found that certain foods seem to make my OA pain worse. I find that when I include those foods, my joints are hurting when I wake up the next morning!

    • AlexandraFunFit July 22, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

      We have a young friend (60) who also had a hip replacement. During her recovery, she invented Drums Alive, which she teaches around the world. You are proof that movement helps, and I hope you keep a’moving.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Speaking of Fitness (to Whoever Will Listen)My Profile

  4. Tamara July 21, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Such a great post! The last thing our clients and group participants need is to be told to stop exercising. There’s always a way to add movement to our day regardless of our medical diagnosis!
    Tamara recently posted..Fitness routines of personal trainers | how your trainers stay fitMy Profile

  5. Debbie @ Live from La Quinta July 21, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Great well-rounded advice. It’s hard to believe that there are still doctors in this world that tell people to stop exercising (I guess, it’s not that hard to believe, but it should be!).
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..Weekly Update and Exciting News about In RefreshMy Profile

  6. Yum Yucky July 21, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    My grandmother had crippling arthritis in her hands. Your post has got me thinking that maybe I need to start doing some daily “Yoga” style exercises for my fingers. I dunno. Maybe it will help me when I’m older.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Josie’s List of Workplace Emergency Survival Cache ItemsMy Profile

  7. Jody - Fit at 56 July 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Always always great advice here!!!!!!! I always look for docs that understand my love of exercise!
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted..Gratitude Monday, Giveaway Winners, Happy BdayMy Profile

  8. cherylann July 22, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    I have some arthritis in my left hip and knees. I am over 60 but still am able to run with strength training, yoga and other ROM exercises. I get massage regularly and use the foam roller. Training for triathlon number 120 currently and work with 3 and 4 yr. olds the rest of the week, so I am up and down a lot (floor, chairs, squats) when there. I can out-do anyone younger at work….yup.

  9. Bharat July 23, 2014 at 5:07 am #

    I have seen many arthritis patients to avoid any physical exercise, as they feel exercise can increase their problem. Instead of sitting ideal, one must keep moving so that they remain active and control arthritis problem.
    Bharat recently posted..Fortis Foundation Rural Health Care SystemMy Profile

  10. linda honsberger October 3, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    that”s why i don”t like zumba. too many side moves.

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