Rheumatoid Arthritis and Exercise

Do you have or does someone you know have Rheumatoid Arthritis?


“People with arthritis who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, and improved sleep, yet arthritis is one of the most common reasons for limiting physical activity”.  (Middleton et al. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 2013).


What is it?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): is an autoimmune disease that results in a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks flexible joints. It can be a disabling and painful condition, which can lead to substantial loss of functioning and mobility if not adequately treated.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Tender, warm joints

  • Persistent joint swelling and stiffness

  • Firm bumps of tissue under the skin of your arms (rheumatoid nodules)

  • Joint discomfort and early onset of fatigue

The signs and symptoms of RA will vary from person to person. Some patients may find that the disease affects them in waves of varying intensity. There may be times where RA flares up, and causes severe discomfort, and quieter times during remission. Early stages of RA tends to attack the smaller joints first. It is most commonly pronounced in the fingers, hands, toes, and feet.

As the disease progresses to intermediate stages symptoms of discomfort often spread to the knees, elbows, hips and shoulders. Even at this stage joint erosion may not have caused a large enough disturbance to be present on an x-ray.

 In the tertiary stages of this disease RA can cause joints to deform and visibly shift out of place, causing great discomfort, and oftentimes is accompanied with inflammation and pain.


What are the Benefits of Exercise?

Although exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you are in pain, it may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your joints!  Long term dynamic exercise (exercise which keeps the muscles and joints moving) has been shown to have a greater positive effect on patients with RA than static or isometric type exercises.  Not only has dynamic exercise  been proven to have no detrimental effect on the activity of the disease, but you can expect to see a significant positive effect on your activities of daily living!

 Not sure what types of exercises are safe? Not to worry!

Our kinesiologists are educated in this field and able to prescribe exercises catered to your needs and can help limit symptoms of RA  while working towards your overall health goals. When prescribed correctly, high intensity exercise can result in increased functional ability and can be safely used in conjunction with treatments by a physical therapist.   Also interestingly, this high intensity level of exercise has been proven to decrease the level of psychological stress on the patients.

There are many researched direct and indirect benefits may result from a regular exercise including but not limited to:


  • Increased range of motion in the affected joints (reduction of stiffness/tension release, and/or release compressive stress)
  • Later onset of pain during physical activity
  •  Increased energy and muscular endurance
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Reduced joint inflammation


  •  Increased body awareness (adaptations in conscious proprioception (neural rewiring))


  • Increased ability to manage and mediate symptoms of stress
  • Enhanced sense of well-being
  • Reduction in overall cortisol levels leading to reduced stress
  • Sensorimotor
  •  Improved co-ordination


  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Increased energy levels

Steps to better health:

Following diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, you may be unsure of what to do next….

The right exercise therapy, tailored by one of our Kinesiologists, or yoga therapists can lead to a road of effective recovery!

After an initial assessment, an individualized program is carefully selected to match each individual, while keeping focus of both ones occupation, and activities of daily living. Stretching and joint mobilization require cautious implementation, the intensity of the procedures must be weighted against the disease state and potentially fragile soft tissue. Most sessions will incorporate joint mobility, muscle strengthening, and aerobic conditioning.

Our kinesiologists can provide carefully designed programs which safely prevent the loss of range of motion, strength and endurance while providing educational, progressive exercise prescription needed to help reduce pain and restore- if not improve- an individual’s standard of living.

You may also want to consider Yoga Therapy:

“Mind-body interventions, such as yoga, that teach stress management along with physical activity may be well suited for investigation in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis”  (Middleton et al. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 2013).

Yoga therapy is the therapeutic application of yoga exercises used to treat individuals with medical conditions. Recent studies show that yoga involving a gentle exercises with breathing techniques has been proven to reduce disease activity scores of RA, and has shown significant improvements in quality of life.

Never tried yoga? Not to worry….Yoga is suitable for any population at any level of fitness or flexibility. If you are new and would like to try yoga, a one on one session can be the perfect introduction paced according to each individuals capabilities.

For more information or to book an appointment with a  Kinesiologist or Yoga Therapist:

email: schedule@kalevfitness.com

phone: 604-568-6006



Van den Ende, C. H., Vlieland, T. V., Munneke, M., & Hazes, J. M. (1998). Dynamic exercise therapy in rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review.Rheumatology, 37(6), 677-687.

Minor, M. A., Webel, R. R., Kay, D. R., Hewett, J. E. and Anderson, S. K. (1989), Efficacy of physical conditioning exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 32: 1396–1405. doi: 10.1002/anr.1780321108

Haaz S, et al. The effect of yoga on clinical parameters in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Abstract presented at American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting. San Francisco, October 25-29, 2008.