Research suggests up to 10 million people in the UK suffer from arthritis, affecting all age groups, making it one of the most common causes of disability today.
Arthritis covers a broad range of conditions, each with its unique symptoms. But the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis which affects the cartilage lining of joints and rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the immune system causing it to target joints leading to pain and swelling.
Both are long-term conditions, but sufferers can manage these conditions and slow progress with the help of treatments such as medicines, lifestyle changes and, in some cases, additional coping mechanisms like daily exercise or physiotherapy.
What does arthritis pain feel like?
Symptoms of arthritis vary depending on the diagnosis but usually include some joint pain, often called arthralgia. This can be in the form of a dull ache or a burning sensation around bodily joints.
For those suffering inflammation in their joints, this can cause stiffness and restrictive movement in the hands, feet and knees, making dealing with arthritis debilitating and a daily struggle for some.
For many people with arthritis tips, the change in seasons can also worsen pain and stiffness whenever it rains or during the cooler months.
This means those who have been managing the condition’s symptoms for a while are likely to feel more aches and pains as it gets colder – especially in their joints and hands.
There isn’t a cure for arthritis, but the good news is there are simple lifestyle changes that can help reduce symptoms and help you feel better. And if those don’t work, there are many other effective treatments for knee arthritis, including non-surgical options.
While regular exercise can help relieve symptoms all year round, there are other benefits when incorporating stretches into your daily life. Dr Robin Clark, medical director for Bupa UK, shares five simple bits to help ease and manage arthritis pain.
How stretching helps ease arthritis
If you have arthritis, you already know how hard it can be to get out of bed, especially in colder weather. Experiencing pain, stiffness and difficulty moving certainly isn’t easy to deal with, but incorporating a few morning stretches into your daily routine is key to warming up muscles and joints and helping increase overall mobility and fitness. For best results, take a warm shower before or after stretching, as this will help loosen up aching joints or stiff hands.
5 Simple stretches to reduce arthritis pain this autumn
- Towel squeeze. This hand stretch can be done with a small damp hand towel or flannel. Roll up the towel into a ball and squeeze. Grip the ball firmly for five seconds, then relax. Do this up to 10–15 times with both hands each day.
- Ankle circles. This common stretch for ankles and foot pain will improve strength and flexibility and can be done sitting on the end of your bed. First, move your ankle slowly in a circular motion. Do this 10 times clockwise, then in the opposite direction with both feet. Once you’re confident with this exercise, you could even try to write the alphabet in the air with your big toe – but only do this once you have rotated your ankles for added flexibility.
- Heel-toe lift. To perform this stretch, sit in an armchair and bend your ankle upwards towards your body, lifting your toes as far as possible while your heel remains on the floor. Then point your toes away from your body, raising your heel. Repeat this ten times with both feet.
- Hamstring stretch. This stretch can be performed in bed or on the floor. Lie on your back with your left knee bent, keeping your foot flat. Place both hands behind your right thigh, lift your right leg as straight as possible, and gently pull your leg towards your chest. Try to hold this position for 30 seconds, then release. Repeat this stretch up to five times on each leg.
- Shoulder and back stretch. This stretch can be performed sitting at your dining room table. Sitting upright with your feet flat on the floor, with your elbows bent, rest your palms on a flattened tea towel out on the table in front of you. Then gently slide the tea towel across the table, tilting your waist but keeping your back straight. Next, slide both hands as far as you find comfortable while straightening your arms. Hold for five seconds, then slowly slide back and repeat; aim to repeat this ten times.
Precautions to keep when exercising with arthritis
Any exercise can be daunting for people who have arthritis, especially if you haven’t done any in a long time. So it’s crucial to always get guidance from a healthcare professional before incorporating stretches into your daily routine. But remember to follow these tips to help protect your joints while stretching.
- Start slowly. Always start your stretches slowly to ease your joints into the exercise. Don’t rush and push too hard, as this can lead to added joint pain or injury. It’s always easier to start slowly and increase intensity as you become familiar with the exercise.
- Move gently. First, start with gentle stretches and mild movements to help warm up your joints. Please pay attention to the position of joints while stretching them to become comfortable with your range of motion. Always stay away from high-impact movement that can strain your joints.
- Stop if painful. Stop if your daily stretches hurt or cause added joint aches and pains. This is your body’s way of telling you to take a break. However, if the pain continues, talk with your healthcare professional.
Dr Robin Clark is the medical director for Bupa UK.