Foot and Ankle Exercises with Arthritis

by | Jul 25, 2018

The idea of exercising with arthritis in your feet or ankles might seem ludicrous at first. If your joints are already experiencing damage, wouldn’t adding activity potentially make things worse? They already hurt, after all!

The good news is that an arthritic joint is more than just some rusty hinge. It is part of a living system that can grow stronger, more flexible, and more efficient with proper use.

With the right kinds of exercise, many arthritis patients can see improved mobility and reduced pain. In fact, a good movement program is considered the most effective non-medicinal treatment for osteoarthritis!

Living with Arthritis

Before You Begin…

We will get into some generally recommended types of exercise soon, but we must make one thing clear before we do:

Before beginning any new exercises or workout programs, it’s always best to consult with a professional first.

We want you to be sure that any new exercise regimen you start is the right fit for you, and will do more good than harm. We can provide advice on ideal ways to exercise, proper form, and signs of trouble you will want to watch out for.

Got it? Great! Let’s move on.

What Types of Exercises are Often Recommended for Arthritis?

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a hardcore P90X trainer for your joints to benefit from exercise. A moderate amount of activity can help reduce pain and build mobility.

Exercises that focus on strengthening muscles around affected joints, maintaining bone strength, building energy, and increasing range of motion can all be helpful.

What do these exercises look like? They might be easier than you expect!

Strengthening Exercises

Strong muscles around joints can serve as great support and protection.

Simple weight training—within the bounds recommended by an expert—is an effective tool here. This may involve ankle weights or certain gym equipment.

Isometric exercises, where your muscles act against each other or an immovable object, may also be useful. Examples of this include plantarflexion and dorsiflexion for your ankles.

For plantarflexion, sit in a solid chair with feet planted against the floor. Lift your ankle and shift your leg so your foot is on top of your other ankle. Press your first foot into your other foot so that your muscles contract. Hold 10 seconds, relax 5 seconds, and repeat 10 times.

For dorsiflexion, set your feet and ankles up as before. Now instead of pressing your first foot into your other foot, pull up on your second foot—bottom foot toward top foot. Hold and relax for the same amount of time, for 10 repetitions.

It may also be worth considering aquatic exercise, usually performed standing up to chest-height in a pool. The water helps take some weight off of joints, while simultaneously providing resistance against muscles.

When performing strength exercises, be sure to rest at least one day between workouts, and don’t hesitate to take an extra day if your joints are sore or swollen.

Aerobic and Energy Exercises

Exercises that strengthen the heart and lungs improve your body’s efficiency and help you spend energy more productively. They can also help control weight, taking additional stress off your joints.

The key with aerobic exercises is to avoid those that will have a high impact on your feet and ankles. Good exercises in this regard include walking, biking, elliptical training, and swimming.

Jogging is more of a high impact activity but it can be a reasonable exercise for some arthritic patients. It’s all about listening to your body and the advice of a medical professional.

Exercising with Arthritis

Range of Motion Exercises

These types of exercises are designed to send a joint through its entire capable motion, building flexibility and maintaining mobility.

Most range of motion exercises take the form of stretches. One such example is ankle circles.

For ankle circles, sit with your back supported by a chair. (You can also do this sitting in a pool—remember how we talked about water resistance above?) Slowly straighten and hold the knee straight, then make large, slow circles with your toes. Travel in one direction, relax for 5 seconds, then repeat in the opposite direction.

Stretching can also help you warm up before a walk or other aerobic exercise, preparing your joints for the workout ahead.

How Often Should I Exercise?

Remember that everyone’s condition and needs are different, so the best advice for a regimen should come directly from a medical professional. We really can’t stress this enough.

As a general rule of thumb, however, stretching and range-of-motion exercises can be performed daily.

When it comes to aerobic exercise, 150 minutes of moderate activity is usually recommended a week. That equates to a 30-minute walk 5 times per week, but breaking your times up into smaller chunks is fine.

We spoke generally about strength training before, but you should speak to a medical professional about weightlifting specifics.

Whatever your schedule is, it is best to switch your activities up through the week and not concentrate on one specific exercise intently. Having a well-rounded repertoire of exercise will benefit you the most. Your body will thank you later!

Get Moving Safely!

If arthritis in your foot or ankle is putting a damper on your activities, exercise may be part of a good treatment plan to improve your quality of life.

It might not be the only way to go, though! Additional treatments such as medications and orthotics may work hand-in-hand to make exercising easier to accomplish with fewer “off days.”

Our experts at Premier Podiatry Group are happy to speak with you more about your best options for managing arthritis discomfort. Give us a call at (814) 472-2660 or fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment.