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Arthritis and Weight Training, by Ralph Weinstein

Arthritis is a broad term referring to greater than 100 rheumatic diseases. The two most prevalent types of arthritis are: Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Osteoarthritis affects over 21 million people in the United States. Approximately 2.1 million people in the United States have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a degenerative joint disease. A joint is a structure that allows movement at the meeting point of two bones. Cartilage is a firm cushion that covers the ends of the two bones, absorbing shock and enabling the bones to glide smoothly over each other. The joint is wrapped inside a tough capsule filled with synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joint and keeps it moving smoothly. In Osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes brittle and breaks down. Deterioration of cartilage can lead to inflammation in the joint. Eventually, the cartilage breaks down so much that it no longer cushions the two bones. The most common joints affected are knees, hips, hands, and spine. The most common symptoms are stiffness, joint pain, and muscle weakness.

In Rheumatoid Arthritis, the second most common form of arthritis, the immune system attacks the tissues of the joints, leading to pain, inflammation, and eventually joint damage and malformation. It typically begins at a younger age than Osteoarthritis, causes swelling and redness in joints, and may make people feel sick, tired, and feverish. Also, the joint involvement of Rheumatoid Arthritis is symmetrical; that is, if one joint is affected, the same joint on the opposite side of the body is usually similarly affected. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, can occur in a single joint or can affect a joint on one side of the body much more severely.

RA can spread to tissues surrounding a joint, causing bone and cartilage erosion, joint deformities, movement problems, and limitations in activity. Of particular importance to your trainers are the effects RA has on functional capacity, decreases in range of motion, muscle strength, and aerobic capacity.

The center for disease control states that strength training can reduce arthritis pain by 43%. Strength training is as effective as or better than medication.

Benefits of a resistance-training program include:

A. strengthens muscle groups around affected joints

B. offers protection and stabilization of affected joints

C. reduces mechanical stress that hasten cartilage degeneration

D. increases functionality

E. decreases pain

F. improves endurance

Another benefit of exercise as a treatment for arthritis is its positive effect on facilitating weight loss. Researchers in the Framingham Osteoarthritis study found that a weight loss of approximately 11 pounds decreased the risk for pain and stiffness by 50%.

The knee can experience an increase of three times a person's body weight during walking and five times body weight while going up or down stairs or when running.

Exercising an arthritic joint is important to:

a. Maximize the health of the cartilage

b. Maintain joint movement

c. Improve muscle strength.


Cartilage does not have a blood supply, so it relies on the synovial fluid moving in and out of the joint to nourish it and remove its wastes. Exercises that involve moving the joints through their range of movement will also help maintain flexibility that is otherwise lost as a result of the arthritis.

Pain associated with arthritis has a weakening effect on the surrounding muscles. However, by undertaking strengthening exercises, muscle weakness can be reversed. Strong muscles will support sore joints. Strength training is crucial to weight control; because individuals who have more muscle mass have a higher metabolic rate. Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories while stored fat uses very little energy. Strength training can provide up to a 15% increase in metabolic rate, which is enormously helpful for weight loss and long-term weight control.

Bottom Line: While strength training cannot cure Arthritis, it can be a critical component to managing pain and being able to thrive!

Posted September 25, 2019 by Tim Rankin