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What’s The Best Exercise For Arthritis?

February 14th, 2022

Arthritis affects more than 10 million people in the UK, according to figures from the NHS. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis, with the hands, knees, hips, and spine the parts of the body most likely to be affected.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, the condition can be managed with various treatments, including some lifestyle changes, such as doing the right types of exercise. But what is the best exercise for arthritis? Let’s take a look…

What Are The Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, typically affecting people from their mid-40s onwards. Osteoarthritis can run in families, and women are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than men. 

This type of arthritis affects the cartilage around the joints, which means tendons and ligaments have to work harder together, potentially resulting in pain and swelling.

Treatments For Osteoarthritis

older people passing a ball in care home activity

Exercise can be one of the most effective treatments for arthritis, as it helps to build up muscles and strengthen the joints, which may help to improve arthritis symptoms as a result. 

Before starting to exercise, speak to your GP, who will be able to find the best exercise for arthritis for your individual needs. It’s important that you don’t do much too quickly, as this could make your discomfort worse.

If an individual with osteoarthritis is overweight or obese, this can place extra pressure on the joints, but exercise is still recommended to help ease discomfort. Professor Philip Conaghan, chair of the NICE Guideline Development Group, and professor of musculoskeletal medicine at the University of Leeds, explained: “The symptoms often caused by osteoarthritis, such as pain and limited joint movement, can be managed with muscle-strengthening, exercise, and weight loss if people are overweight.”

What Are The Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is thought to affect more than 400,000 people in the UK, with symptoms typically beginning between the ages of 40 and 50, and women are three times more likely to be affected than men.

With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system starts to affect the joints, which can result in pain and swelling. In some cases, this can lead to a change in the shape of your joints, potentially causing bone and cartilage to break down, resulting in more discomfort.

Treatments For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Physiotherapy may help to relieve some of the discomfort associated with rheumatoid arthritis. It can help to improve your fitness and muscle strength, potentially making your joints more flexible as a result.

If your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are so bad that they’re affecting your ability to do everyday tasks, speak to your GP, who will be able to advise on pain relief or anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as occupational therapy support.

The Best Exercises For Arthritis

clasped hands

The best exercises for arthritis tend to be low-impact, aerobic exercises that don’t place too much pressure on the joints, such as walking and swimming – swimming can be especially beneficial for the joints, as the water makes you feel weightless.

If you’re doing exercises for arthritis at home, try to do them several times a day, every day to keep your joints moving. If you want to target a particular part of your body, try these recommendations…

Knee Arthritis Exercises

Practising knee arthritis exercises on a regular basis could help to ease some of the discomfort associated with osteoarthritis. Bear in mind that you should always consult your GP before trying any new exercise for arthritis.

Seated Leg Raise

This is a good way to keep your joints moving, even when you’re sat watching TV.

  • Sit with your back straight and your knees in front of you, with your feet on the floor
  • Raise and straighten your leg out in front of you
  • Hold for 10 seconds, then release, and move your foot back onto the floor
  • Repeat 10 times, then swap legs and repeat the process

Heel Slide

  • Lie flat on your back on the floor
  • Bend one knee until it’s pointing at the ceiling while your foot is flat on the floor
  • Hold for 5 seconds, release, then repeat 5 times with each leg


  • Using either an exercise step or the bottom step of your staircase, simply step up and down
  • Work each knee equally until you can’t manage anymore, then allow yourself to rest

From Seated to Standing

  • Sit straight in your chair, and challenge yourself to move from sitting to standing
  • Move as slowly as you need to at first, without using your hands for support
  • Keep practising until you can make the transition with more ease and a little more speed

Arthritis Exercises For The Hands

clenched fist

If it’s your hands that are most affected by arthritis, try these exercises:

Clenched Fists

  • Make a fist with your hands and hold it clenched for 10 seconds
  • Release and repeat 10 times
  • Do this with both hands at the same time a few times a day

‘O’ Shape

  • Make an ‘O’ shape with your hands to challenge and exercise your fingers in a different way
  • Hold for 10 seconds, then relax your hand and repeat 10 times, a few times a day

Finger Lifts

  • Place the palm of your hand flat on the table 
  • Lift one finger at a time to work all of your fingers, as well as your wrist
  • Repeat several times with each hand

Splayed Fingers

  • Place your palm flat on the table with your fingers splayed
  • Bring your fingers together, hold for 5 seconds, then release again
  • Repeat 5 times to keep your finger joints moving

Hip Arthritis Exercises

Walking is one of the best hip arthritis exercises, as it’s low-impact but naturally encourages your hips to move. Aquafit classes are another good option, as they can make it easier for you to twist your body without feeling too much impact.

Other recommended hip arthritis exercises include:

Hip Abduction Exercises

  • Stand straight with a chair at your side
  • Rest the hand closest to the chair on the back of the chair to steady yourself
  • Lift the opposite leg off the floor and out to the side
  • Hold the pose for 5 seconds before placing your foot back on the floor
  • Repeat 5 times, then swap legs and repeat the process on the opposite side

Heel Slides

  • Lie flat on your back and revisit the heel slide exercise recommended for the knees again
  • However, this time, you should take your heel a little further towards your bottom than you did for the knee arthritis exercise to stretch your hip a little further

Physical Wellbeing In Later Life

It’s important to try to stay as mobile as you can in later life to benefit not just your physical wellbeing, but also your mental health. Try to eat a balanced diet and move as much as you can – even if you can only manage gentle exercise, such as chair yoga – to keep your body in good condition and reduce the likelihood of discomfort. 

At New Care, our staff are given specialist training as part of the Oomph wellbeing programme to enable them to deliver regular fun physical activity for our residents, as well as everyday mental stimulation. 

If you have any questions about the activities on offer in our care homes, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.