Often people are confused about whether exercise and rheumatoid arthritis are a safe combination. Understandably, there is trepidation amongst those diagnosed with the condition as to whether partaking in physical activity could increase their pain or exacerbate the symptoms they experience.
Those with rheumatoid arthritis typically go through a cycle of what are classified as 'active' and 'passive' phases. An active phase (also called a 'flare') is where significant pain, inflammation, swelling and stiffness are present in the joints and limit daily activities. A passive phase occurs when inflammation and the severity of symptoms subside.
The rules surrounding exercise can in most cases be pretty simple. During an active phase those with arthritis should avoid exercise. However, during passive phases exercise can help stabilise affected joints, strengthen the muscles and tissue that surround them, and help maintain joint range of movement for sufferers. It is in fact a great therapeutic intervention for management of the disease.
So if you have arthritis, and are not experiencing an active phase (or flare) what sort of exercise should you or can you do? There are certainly some types of exercise that should be avoided - for example high impact and strenuous, repetitive movements are not suitable. Neither are positions that could aggravate affected joints (for example kneeling or squatting for those with arthritis in the knee). It's also a good idea not to exercise first thing in the morning as that is when joints are typically stiffer. However, the good news is that body conditioning exercises that target joint stability and muscular strength, and stretches that seek to maintain or improve flexibility are extremely beneficial for sufferers!
So where does Pilates fit into all of this? Well, Pilates is low impact body conditioning...so it's one of the best forms of exercises those with arthritis can do! Classes contain all of the components that can help contribute to better joint health, and most importantly have a whole host of modifications that allow the exercises to adapt to an individual's condition. So for example if you have arthritis in your wrist, you would not be required to bend it or put excessive weight through it, and your teacher would find an alternative that is safe for you. The same goes for all joints that are arthritic...there's always an alternative to ensure you're not excluded and continue to benefit from the effects of the exercises.
I would recommend those that have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and that are new to Pilates start with a couple of one to one sessions, so the instructor can understand how the condition affects you and draw up a programme to work within your limitations and get the best results. If you want to join a group class, then it's always advisable to start at beginner level, regardless of your exercise experience, and of course in all situations advise the instructor of your condition.
In all circumstances it is an absolute necessity to check with your GP or Consultant that exercise is suitable for you before participating - as individual circumstances can vary, and what is right for one person may not be right for another. This article is by no means meant to replace the advice of any medical professional and is provided for general guidance purposes only.