“I don’t do that exercise because it’s bad for your joints.” Sound familiar? It’s a common reason people avoid exercises like running, weight training or some classes.
But this assumption that exercise damages your joints has been found to be false. In fact, studies conducted over the past decade have shown that exercise does benefit your joints, helping to build both healthy cartilage and muscular support around the joints, keeping them stronger for longer.
Maybe it's time to rethink your relationship with exercise?
Building strong cartilage in your joints
Arthritis happens when the cartilage that cushions your joints changes so that it provides less cushioning to the joint and reduced space between the bones. This can lead to pain and discomfort in some people that starts to limit what they want to do for work and leisure.
We are not 100% sure yet what exactly causes arthritis, but it's not purely due to wear and tear on the joints from exercise. It seems to be a result of inflammation in the joint that can be made worse by previous injuries and other lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, that causes the cartilage to degrade. Research has shown that exercise can actually reinforce cartilage.
Your joints are surrounded by a thin piece of tissue connected to your blood supply called the synovial membrane. This membrane produces the fluid that lubricates your joints. Cartilage has no independent blood supply, so instead, it gets its nutrients from this fluid.
When exercising, your blood pumps faster around your body, providing the membrane with a plentiful supply of nutrients, which are infused into the fluid. What’s more, running and other high-impact exercises, have been shown to force this nutrient-rich fluid into the cartilage, keeping it healthy.
If you already suffer from joint pain, high-impact exercises that aggravate this pain should be avoided, at least in the short term. There are plenty of exercises that you can do to build strength in your joints. If you want to be able to do high impact exercise, the key is to introduce it slowly and listen to your symptoms to find the right intensity for you.
Muscles and ligaments – your joints' support network
Your knees, hips and other joints rely on a supportive network of muscles to keep them sturdy. So exercises that build these muscles and ligaments will strengthen your joints, making you less prone to injury in the long run.
Strength training uses weight to gradually build muscle tone. If you’re new to exercise, you should begin with bodyweight exercises, working your way onto weight machines, which provide stability while you train. You can then move onto free weights, such as kettlebells or dumbbells. Again, the key is to introduce anything new slowly and steadily.
How exercise can relieve joint pain
An added benefit of exercise is it can help to prevent and relieve pain in your joints. We know that improving our cardiovascular health can help reduce overall inflammation that contributes to our pain. Furthermore, the more you move, the less stiff and fatigued you will feel.
Exercise can also affect your mental outlook, flooding your brain’s receptors with ‘feel good’ endorphins, which both make you feel happier and change your perception of pain. You might find you're more motivated and that pain becomes more manageable after exercise.
Find out more about improving your outlook while living with chronic pain
If you'd like some short-term relief, we have a range of products to help you manage joint pain on our shop.
Last updated Friday 27 January 2023
First published on Tuesday 2 October 2018