Exercising with arthritis

The term arthritis means inflammation of a joint or joints. Arthritis is more than 100 medical conditions. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common forms of arthritis.


Osteoarthritis is characterised by joint pain, stiffness (especially after periods of rest), swelling and tenderness. The affected joints may also have a diminished range of motion. The symptoms may interfere with the sufferer’s ability to participate in the basic activities of daily living, such as walking around and using household utensils.

Osteoarthritis develops slowly and is most common in older people, but is also seen in the young. Bony growths or spurs may develop on the margins of affected joints. There may be audible cracking or grating noises when the joint moves.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint pain that is sometimes quite severe. Other symptoms may include stiffness (especially in the mornings), joint swelling, muscle weakness, fatigue, anaemia, fever, and weight loss.

Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects more than one joint at a time, often in a symmetrical pattern (for example both wrists). The joints may become deformed and damaged, especially in the first few years of the disease.

Sufferers may experience intermittent flare-ups during which the joints become more inflamed and painful.


Osteoarthritis is associated with loss of the cartilage in a joint.

Risk factors include getting older, being overweight or obese, a history of injury or trauma to the affected joint, and participation in sports or occupations that involve repetitive stress to the affected joint. For example, osteoarthritis of the knee commonly occurs in people whose occupations involve kneeling or squatting.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, a disease in which the body turns on itself, attacking its own tissues. Its underlying cause is unknown.

Contributing factors to rheumatoid arthritis may include being a smoker and having a family history of the disease.

Natural Therapies

  • Glucosamine is the major building block of aggrecan, the compound that’s responsible for the resilience and shock-absorbing properties of cartilage. Glucosamine helps reduce cartilage wear in osteoarthritis and decreases the progressive deterioration of the joints.  In osteoarthritis, glucosamine has been shown to improve joint function. It reduces symptoms of pain, swelling and joint inflammation.
  • Chondroitin sulfate plays an important role in the lubrication and nutrition of the joint and aids in the manufacture of glycosaminoglycans, which are key structural components of cartilage. In particular, chondroitin sulfate helps cartilage to resist compressive loads (such as may be involved in weight-bearing exercises such as running). Additionally, it may help to protect cartilage from deterioration by inhibiting enzymes involved in cartilage breakdown. 
  • Manganese is important for the production of cartilage and bone, and is a component of an antioxidant enzyme that helps protect cellular components from free radical damage. Boron plays a role in the chemical make-up of bones and joints, and population research indicates that people whose diets include plenty of boron may experience fewer joint diseases.
  • The omega-3 fatty acids, have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce the pain, swelling and joint stiffness of arthritis while supporting optimal joint mobility.
  • High doses of fish oil may be beneficial in inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Taking vitamin D3 may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Low levels of vitamin D may also be associated with increased risk of progression of arthritis of the knee as well as an increased risk of falls in the elderly. Devil’s claw is traditionally used for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and may provide temporary relief of symptoms of pain, muscle tension, stiffness and decreased mobility associated with musculoskeletal complaints, including osteoarthritis. Devil’s claw may also be useful in osteoarthritis by allowing a reduction in the intake of some pain relief medications.

Diet and Lifestyle Suggestions

If you suspect you’re suffering from arthritis, prompt diagnosis will determine the type, and therefore, the right form of treatment and most appropriate changes to your diet and lifestyle. Talk to your doctor for more information. 

With the exception of gout, potential links between arthritis and diet are not well understood. Some people do find that avoiding certain foods helps their arthritis symptoms, but this is believed to be due to food intolerances, rather than a deleterious effect of certain foods on arthritis itself. 

Food allergies and intolerances may be a particular issue for people with rheumatoid arthritis, and following an elimination diet under the supervision of your healthcare professional may help to determine which foods (if any) are contributing to your health issues.

The most common intolerances/allergies in rheumatoid arthritis include wheat, corn, dairy products, beef and the nightshade vegetables (which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, capsicum and chillies). 

There is some evidence that following a vegetarian diet may aid the management of rheumatoid arthritis. 

  • Include plenty of omega-3 oils in your diet in order to take advantage of their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Good sources include fish (and fish oil capsules), ground flaxseeds also called linseeds (and flaxseed oil capsules), canola oil, and walnuts. 
  • Being overweight has a negative effect on your joints, forcing them to bear a greater load. Work with your healthcare professional to devise a diet and exercise regime that allows you to achieve a healthy body weight without aggravating your arthritis. 
  • Exercise is important for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers and helps to improve mobility, flexibility, posture, muscle strength and balance, while also aiding the management of symptoms such as stress, pain and fatigue.
  • Aim for a combination of activities that improve your flexibility, increase your muscle strength, and support your aerobic fitness. 
  • Low impact forms of exercise such as swimming, walking, aquarobics, weight lifting and cycling may be particularly beneficial , and there is also some preliminary evidence suggesting that doing yoga may be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Don’t start a new exercise programme without first talking to your healthcare professional. Your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist may prescribe specific exercises that are tailored to your personal needs. 
  • Don’t overdo it. Continuing to experience joint pain two hours after you’ve finished exercising is an indication that next time you need to take things more easily. 
  • Stop your exercise session if it causes excessive or unusual pain.  Skeletal misalignments may aggravate arthritis by increasing the pressure on your joints, so treatment from a chiropractor or osteopath may be beneficial for you, and in some cases orthotic insoles may also be helpful. 
  • Ask your doctor or occupational therapist about specialised household gadgets that have been adapted for ease of use by patients with arthritis.


  • Exercise is important in both the prevention and treatment of arthritis . It improves muscle strength and maintains mobility.
  • Overweight and obesity also affect the weight bearing joints, which become irritated and stressed by having to carry too much of a load. 
  • Correct posture is also important in avoiding body weight to be distributed unevenly, and causing stiffness and crippling.

Important Notes

  • Symptoms that appear to be arthritis may actually be indicative of other underlying health problems, so it’s important that you see your healthcare professional for a diagnosis.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment may help to limit joint damage and deformity in rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • In severe cases of osteoarthritis, joint replacement surgery may be necessary.

Blackmores The articles produced by Blackmores are authored by a dedicated team of expert writers who tailor their content to address topics that resonate with our community's interests.

Explore our services to improve your wellbeing

Blackmores Products

Contact Us

Blackmores is Australia's Leading Provider of nutritional and therapeutics supplements