If arthritis pain has you chained to your chair, you must do what you dread
most: Get up and move that aching body. Otherwise, it will only get worse.
By staying put, you allow your muscles and ligaments to tighten up, so your
joints won't bend as far as they used to. You also burn fewer calories, and the
weight you pack on as a result puts more strain on your joints.
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That doesn't mean you should jump up and put yourself through a grueling
workout right now. If you're not in shape, you have to ease into it. The best
way to begin -- and to end -- is by stretching.
Stretches are range-of-motion exercises that reduce stiffness and help keep
your joints flexible, which can make daily activities easier. Simply put, your
"range of motion" is the normal amount your joints can be moved in
certain directions. Stretching gradually expands that range, giving you greater
flexibility and less pain.
You should always stretch before you attempt any workout. If you are stiff
while you're exercising, you are more likely to hurt yourself, says Bernard
Rubin, chief of rheumatology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.
It's true for anyone, even kids. Nevertheless, "The older you get, the more
important it is," Rubin says. To keep your muscles limber, you must also
stretch after you exercise.
In a sense, stretching and strengthening are the ying and yang of exercise:
one enhances the other.
When you get up from a chair and climb stairs you use your quadriceps -- leg
muscles above the knee. "It's important to build strength in those
muscles," says Geri Neuberger, nursing professor at the University of
Kansas Medical Center. Before you do, stretch them. Stand up holding onto a
wall for support. Reach around behind you and grab your ankle (with your right
hand to stretch the right leg, and vice versa). Bending the knee, gently pull
your foot up towards your behind. When you feel the muscle stretch, hold it for
about ten to 20 seconds. Let go, and do the other leg.
Here are three other simple stretches:
To stretch your calves, stand about two feet away from a wall. Put your
hands on the wall and lean towards it, keeping your feet flat on the floor and
your back straight. You'll feel tension in your calf muscles. Hold it like that
for about ten to 20 seconds, and then ease up and do it again.
It's also good to stretch the hamstrings -- the muscles running up the back
of your leg. To do so, lay flat on your back. Bend your knee, then bring your
thigh back and hug it to your chest. When you feel tension in the back of your
leg, stop and hold it there for about ten to 20 seconds. Let go and do the
other leg the same way.
You'll want to work on your upper body, too. To stretch the muscles of the
upper body, simply stand and hold your arms straight out in front of you for
about five seconds. Relax and do it again nine more times for a total of ten.
Then stretch your arms straight out behind you so that your shoulder blades
touch. You will feel the tension. Count to five, holding your arms like that.
Do it nine more times.