Introduction: Understanding Joint Stiffness in Arthritic Seniors
Are you a senior struggling with the aches and pains of arthritis? You’re not alone! In fact, a lot of seniors are affected by arthritis.
This makes it more important than ever to prioritize physical activity to maintain joint health. Engaging in low-impact exercises can help alleviate seniors’ pain and increase their mobility.
Senior Helpers has what you need to know about various exercises specifically designed to support your joints without worsening your symptoms or causing injury.
Joint stiffness is a common issue experienced by seniors living with arthritis, significantly impacting their mobility and daily activities.
Understanding the nuances of joint stiffness and its effects on seniors’ lives is crucial to implementing effective measures to alleviate discomfort.
Causes types and symptoms of Arthritis Affecting Seniors
Arthritis comes in various forms, affecting seniors differently and leading to joint stiffness. Identifying the types and underlying causes aids in addressing the root of the issue.
The most common arthritis symptoms and signs include:
- Joint pain.
- Stiffness or reduced range of motion (how far you can move a joint).
- Swelling (inflammation).
- Skin discoloration.
- Tenderness or sensitivity to touch around a joint.
- A feeling of heat or warmth near your joints.
Where you experience symptoms depends on which type of arthritis you have, and which of your joints it affects.
Some types of arthritis cause symptoms in waves that come and go called flares or flare-ups. Others make your joints feel painful or stiff all the time, or after being physically active.
What causes arthritis varies depending on which type you have:
- Osteoarthritis happens naturally as you age — a lifetime of using your joints can eventually wear down their cartilage cushioning.
- You may develop gout if you have too much uric acid in your blood (hyperuricemia).
- Your immune system can cause arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis) when it damages your joints by mistake.
- Certain viral infections (including COVID-19) can trigger viral arthritis.
- Sometimes, arthritis happens with no cause or trigger. Providers call this idiopathic arthritis.
Importance of Range of Motion Exercises
Range of motion exercises plays a pivotal role in combating joint stiffness. Exploring the significance of exercising for joint flexibility is essential for seniors with arthritis.
A Daily Range-of-Motion Exercise Routine
Gagliardi recommends “working up the kinetic chain” — so starting from your feet and working your way up the body. Many of these are simple enough to do in bed or seated in a chair.
Toe Range-of-Motion Exercises
Toe curls: You can do this simple exercise firs thing in the morning while you’re still lying in bed. Slowly, curl all your toes in toward the sole of your foot, then extend them out toward the ceiling. You can do one foot at a time or both feet at the same time.
Ankle Range-of-Motion Exercises
Dorsiflexion: When seated, maintain good posture and keep your heels on the ground. Then try to raise your toes up toward your shins. Go slowly, trying to get your toes as high as possible while your heels are firmly planted on the ground.
Plantar Flexion: This is the opposite range of motion from dorsiflexion. When seated, maintain good posture with your feet on the floor. Then pretend as though you’re stepping on a gas pedal, pushing your toes down and bringing your heels off the ground.
Ankle Circles: While seated, move your ankle slowly in clockwise circles, as though there’s a pencil between your toes and you’re trying to write the letter “O.” Then go the opposite way and make counterclockwise circles.
Knee Range-of-Motion Exercises
Ball Kicks: You can do this either sitting or standing, depending on your comfort level. If seated, keep both feet flat on the floor.
Then raise one leg out as though you were trying to kick a ball. Straighten your leg, aiming to get your foot in line with your knee so your leg makes a straight line parallel to the floor.
If you have knee pain, you will not be able to get to that straight line right away; it’s something you will aim to work up to over time.
Glute Kicks: While standing, bend your knee and try to bring your heel to touch your glutes (butt muscle). You may want to lean on a sturdy countertop or desk for support.
Hip Range-of-Motion Exercises
Leg Raises: Hold on to the back of a countertop or chair for support with your right hand. Then raise your left leg slowly in front of you, aiming to get it parallel to the ground.
Note: This move is challenging even for people without arthritis or hip issues; just keep your leg in a straight line and try to get it as high as you can. Do as many as you can (up to 10) and then switch to the other leg.
Standing Jacks: Standing with your right arm holding onto a chair or countertop for support, raise your left leg out to the side, as though you’re doing the bottom half of a jumping jack. Do as many as you can (up to 10) and then switch to the other leg.
Cross-Body Leg Raises: To work your hip joint in the opposite direction, stand with your right arm holding onto a chair or countertop for support.
Raise your left leg forward and to the right, so it crosses your midline. Do this slowly and try to raise your leg steadily; you’ll feel a slight tension in your hip, which is normal. Do as many as you can (up to 10) and then switch to the other leg.
Shoulder Range-of-Motion Exercises
Hugs: Standing or sitting, keep your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Raise your arms forward up toward shoulder height, as though you were going to give someone a hug.
Arm Kick-Backs: Standing or sitting, keep your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Push your arms back behind you (as though you were holding ski poles) and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. You’ll feel a little pressure in your triceps muscles.
T Raises: Standing or sitting, keep your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Raise your arms out to each side toward shoulder height, as though you were trying to turn your body into the letter T.
Arm Circles: Raising your arms out to the sides toward shoulder height, move them gently and slowly in small circles.
Elbow Range-of-Motion Exercises
Weightless Bicep Curls: Sitting or standing with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, bring the palms of your hands up toward your shoulders, then slowly and deliberately lower them back down, as though you’re doing a bicep curl without weights.
Wrist Range-of-Motion Exercises
Wrist Curls: With your hands in gentle fists, curl the palms of your hands back toward your forearms. Then go in the opposite direction. Curl your hands down, as though you’re trying to curl your knuckles toward your arms.
Safety Measures and Precautions for Seniors Engaging in Exercises
Implementing safety precautions such as proper warm-ups, understanding limitations, and avoiding overexertion is vital to prevent injuries during exercise sessions.
- Follow Instructions. Modifying exercises for your elderly parent may be necessary to reduce the risk of strains and accidents.
- Don’t Overdo It.
- Wear Appropriate Gear.
- Warm Up Properly.
- Be Aware of Surroundings.
- Stay Hydrated.
Creating a Personalized Exercise Plan
Tailoring exercises to individual needs and setting achievable goals ensures that seniors can steadily improve joint flexibility while avoiding strain.
Incorporating Lifestyle Changes to Complement Exercises
Adopting lifestyle changes including diet modifications, hydration, rest, and utilizing adaptive aids supports the effectiveness of range of motion exercises for arthritic seniors.
Monitoring Progress and Adapting Exercises
Tracking improvements in joint flexibility allows seniors to adjust their exercise routines accordingly for better results and comfort.
Psychological Benefits of Alleviating Joint Stiffness
Beyond physical relief, reducing joint stiffness positively impacts seniors’ mental well-being and overall quality of life.
Management and Treatment
What is arthritis treatment?
There’s no cure for arthritis, but your healthcare provider will help you find treatments that manage your symptoms. Which treatments you’ll need depend on what’s causing the arthritis, which type you have and which joints it affects.
The most common arthritis treatments include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medicine like NSAIDs or acetaminophen.
- Corticosteroids (prescription anti-inflammatory medicine, including cortisone shots).
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) if you have rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis.
- Physical therapy or occupational therapy can help you improve your strength, range of motion and confidence while you’re moving.
- Surgery (usually only if nonsurgical treatments don’t relieve your symptoms).
Range of motion exercises are invaluable for arthritic seniors in combating joint stiffness, enhancing mobility, and improving their overall well-being.
Arthritis is one of the most common health conditions people experience. But, just because lots of people have it, that doesn’t mean you should live in pain.
Talk to a healthcare provider about ways to manage arthritis symptoms. They’ll help you find ways to spend more time doing the activities you love, and less time feeling stiff and uncomfortable.
Arthritis can be a pain in the neck (and knees, and hips, and back and any other joint in your body), but try to stay as active as possible.
Ask your provider about physical or occupational therapy to help you stay strong, active and confident throughout your daily routine.