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Is Weightlifting Safe with Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, often called the “wear and tear” form of arthritis, is common in senior adults. It most frequently affects the weight-bearing joints, particularly the knees, as the cartilage that cushions the joint begins to wear away over time.

Although it may seem like the opposite would be true, weightlifting is actually healthy for those diagnosed with osteoarthritis, because strong muscles support the joints. Weightlifting can also ease joint pain and stiffness, boost bone strength, and maintain a healthy weight. Not to mention, weightlifting can also help improve gait speed, the stability to stand up from a seated position, and other everyday activities.

However, that doesn’t mean you should rush to the nearest gym and pump iron to your maximum capability as soon as you can. You should always discuss a new exercise regimen with your doctor before starting and be very careful if your workout causes pain in your affected joints. The “no pain, no gain” philosophy does not hold true in most cases, especially if you have an underlying condition where pain is a signal that you’re pushing yourself too hard. In fact, you can make your osteoarthritis symptoms worse by pushing yourself too hard. To counteract this, you may either need to start with simpler exercises with lighter weights or do fewer repetitions and then work your way up to more challenging activities.

What the Research Says

As we age, muscle mass declines. Muscle weakness is often part and parcel with osteoarthritis, especially if the knees are affected, functional limitations, or other disabilities. Fortunately, muscle strength can be improved through safe weightlifting, and it can even be protective against the functional limitations endured by those with osteoarthritis.

As you prepare to start a weight training program, you should:

  • Warm up: Light range of motion exercises can help you ease into the program and loosen up tight muscles.
  • Start low and slow: Utilize lighter weight as you become familiar with the proper technique, and then increase the weight in small increments when it is appropriate to do so, keeping it in mind that 50-60% of your maximum capacity is more then enough to promote stronger muscles and healthier joints.
  • Learn the proper technique: This is another reason why you should have supervision at first, as proper alignment reduces the risk of injury and aggravated joint pain.
  • Wear comfortable footwear: Having the right shoes can make all the difference. Ensure you have the best support and alignment when lifting weights to lessen joint stress and strain.
  • Cool down after your workout: This gives your body time to relax after any strenuous activity and eases joint strain.

Keep These Facts in Mind

Remember that overdoing any physical activity can cause more harm than good. It’s wise to discuss weight training with your orthopedist before you start an exercise regimen so you can learn more about the risks and benefits. They will likely refer you to a physical therapist familiar with osteoarthritis who can evaluate your condition and make appropriate, customized recommendations for your fitness level. It’s always better to have a supervised weight training program, especially to start, rather than begin on your own with a home-based program. Not only that, but you’ll be more likely to adhere to a prescribed program than doing a program on your own without supervision.

Even with all of these precautions you should take, there’s no evidence suggesting that older adults have greater risk of increased pain than younger adults. In fact, exercise is beneficial no matter your age or the severity of your osteoarthritis, given you follow the proper techniques and have appropriate supervision. Remember to notify your physical therapist if you are in pain, your muscles or joints ache, you hear popping or locking of the affected joints, you experience new pain, or you have shortness of breath.

Do you have osteoarthritis and you’re ready to learn more about how an orthopedic doctor can help you with a weightlifting program? Contact us at Comprehensive Spine Institute by calling (727) 300-2537 today.