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Water exercises for fighting arthritis

Did you know that hydrotherapy is one of the most effective alternative therapies for arthritis? Try these exercises & discover for yourself

While many people are aware of the benefits that going to swimming pool offers, a lot of people are unsure exactly what they should do when they get there. This means that more often than not they end up doing a couple of lengths of front crawl, breaststroke or backstroke and then get out without really feeling like they’ve accomplished all they could. The purpose of this article is to teach you a few simple exercises to do in the pool that will help you sooth those aching joints.

The following plan is based on five repetitions of each exercise (alternating between legs, arms, wrists etc). Remember it’s best to tread cautiously, so you should start off gently and increase your activity gradually as your body gets used to the routine. Of course, it goes without saying that you should check with your doctor before embarking on any new exercise regime, and this is no exception. Your doctor knows your case history and so is the best person to guide you when it comes to determining how often to exercise.

For your legs...

1. Leg Swing (hip flexion). Leaning on the edge of the pool, swing your leg backwards and forwards (keeping your knee locked and the leg as straight as possible). Gradually increase the range of movement. Repeat for both legs.

2. Leg Lift and Knee Extension (hip and knee flexion). Leaning on the side of the pool, bend your leg at the knee and lift it as high as it will go. Once raised, straighten out your leg and keep it straight as you lower it to the floor. Repeat with the other leg.

3. Sideways Leg Lift (abduction and hip abduction). Leaning on the side of the pool, raise your leg up and out to the side. Swing it down to the floor and then up the other side (as if it were a pendulum). Repeat with the other leg.

For your stomach...

1. Stand with your back to the side of the pool and your hands on the edge. Lift both legs off the floor (with your knees bent). If you want to increase the difficulty of this exercise you can try keeping your legs straight as you lift them.

For your torso...

1. Pendulum (lateral spine flexion). Place your hands on your hips and flex from side to side. As you stretch from side to side be careful not to let your shoulders get out of line.

2. Sideways Spine Stretch (lateral spine flexion). Place your hands straight down at your sides and bend sideways from the waist by slowly sliding one of your hands down your leg. This should be a very gradual movement (remembering to stop as soon as you feel any discomfort). Try to focus on stretching your spine out as you go. Slowly slide your hand back up your leg until you are back at your starting position and repeat on the other side.

For your shoulders...

1. Arm Bend and Extension. Stretch your arms out in front of you (either completely straight or slightly bent at the elbow). Lower and raise. You can repeat this exercise one arm at a time or both together.

2. Sideways Lift (abduction and shoulder abduction). Repeat the previous exercise but this time with your arms out to the side rather than in front of you.

3. Circular Sideways Movement (lateral shoulder circumduction). With your arms crossed in front of you draw small circles in the water. Gradually increase the size of the circles until you can’t go any bigger. Repeat the exercise but this time with your arms behind your back. You can do this one arm at a time or both arms together.

4. Frontal Circular Movement (frontal shoulder circumduction). Hold one arm out in front of you and draw small circles in the water, as in the previous exercise but this time moving your arm from side to side. Once you’ve done one arm repeat with the other one.

For your elbows...

1. Elbow Bend and Extend. With your arm pressed flat against your side, raise your forearm by bending your arm at the elbow (keeping your upper arm glued to your body). Raise until you can touch the top of your shoulder (if possible). You can repeat this exercise with one arm at a time or both together.

For your wrists and fingers...

1. Wrist Flex and Stretch. With your palm flat facing the bottom of the pool, flex your wrists up and down.

2. Wrist Circumduction. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Just flex and stretch your wrist in circular movements.

3. Finger Flex and Stretch. Clench your hand into a fist and then open it up, stretching your fingers as wide as they will go.

4. Thumb to Finger Stretch. Start with an open hand and then touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of each finger in turn as if you were counting on your fingers. Remember to return to a flat palm between each finger.

For your ankles and toes...

1.  Ankle Flex and Stretch. Lift one foot off the bottom of the pool and flex it up and down, stretching as far as you can without pain. 

2. Ankle Circumduction. Lift one foot off the floor and flex it in a circular movement.

3. Toe Flex and Stretch. Scrunch your toes up as if you were trying to pick something up off the bottom of the pool and then stretch them out as far as possible.

Arthritis, Wellbeing, Symptoms, Non-pharmacological treatments, Exercise

Author: Luis Miguel Pérez, Exercise and Sports Science Graduate

Last Modification: May 12, 2017

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