Exercises to avoid with rheumatoid arthritis

Being a chronic disease and systematic inflammatory disorder, rheumatic arthritis mainly attacks flexible joints by producing inflammations around them. It not only affects the synovial joints but also produces inflammation in lungs, membranes around heart and lungs, white of the eye, and subcutaneous tissues. In such a case, what role does physical therapy play in recovery? With swollen joints, could a person affected with rheumatoid arthritis do physical therapies? The answer is yes, but to what extent physical therapies can be done depends upon a patient’s health and endurance.

In general, it is a good practice for people affected with rheumatoid arthritis to indulge in regular minimal physical activity like walking to reduce fatigue and increase stamina. The problem is to maintain the limit and not to over indulge in certain high-intense workouts that can erode joint surface or lead to tendon tethering, thereby impairing a range of movements due to additional stress. Patients affected with rheumatoid arthritis must involve in regular simple movements to prevent swelling, and wait patiently for the bones and joints to become strong and heal completely. Otherwise, excessive stress on joints could lead to complete damage and also cause deformity in some cases. In the case of total damage in knees, patients would have to go for total knee replacement with artificial knee cap and joints. So, here are 9 high intense workouts which you must avoid to protect your joints from further damage.


Jogging may seem simple and easy to do, but it is a high intensity exercise as it involves continuous and rigorous movement of all body parts, especially joints. Jogging in general provides many benefits like weight management, strengthening of bones and most importantly protection of healthy joints. So, people with rheumatoid arthritis prefer to include jogging in their workout plan. However, an important point we tend to overlook is, jogging helps to protect already healthy joints, but can easily damage already worn out joints as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. Hence, patients must take enough caution before they plan to include jogging in their physical exercise regime.

Additionally, a recent study of effects of high intensity workouts like jogging on patients with rheumatic arthritis shows that only fewer patients did not show any signs of rapid progression of damage, whereas others did. So should you include jogging in your workout plan: the answer depends on your physical health, your endurance capability, and the condition of your joints. You could also use a knee brace and still go for jogging, but it is better to stay away from it, as jogging can easily cause swelling of knees. The best alternative is to rely on regular walking with occasional bouts of jogging.

Treadmill running

Low impact activities are certainly preferable for people with rheumatoid arthritis, as they would experience more aches and pains in their feet and ankles with high impact exercises like treadmill running. This would certainly be a tougher decision for people who have already been running for a very long time. But, rheumatoid arthritis, unlike other types of arthritis, truly damages the joint tissues while running. However, the general advice to avoid all high impact exercise seems to be changing a bit recently, but it is advisable to stay away from treadmill running especially if it hurts your joints immediately after doing it.

If you experience acute pain in your feet, knees, hip or ankles, then it could signal a flair in your existing arthritis condition. As treadmill running involves vigorous movement of ankles, knees and joints, patients with weaker joints are highly likely to experience severe joint pain. But if you are in the initial stage of rheumatoid arthritis and experience only considerably minimal pain in joints, then you can keep the machine speed at moderate pace and try walking with good supportive shoes. You can also compensate running on treadmill by doing low impact sports like walking or skating to keep you physically fit. Finally, it is highly important to listen to your body and change your workout plans gradually.


With pain and stiffness in joints, bicycling may seem the right exercise to avoid. Even though cycling has many benefits, it isn’t good for patients who have weak and sensitive joints with consistent pain and swelling. If you experience sudden flares or acute pain in the joints, ankles or knees after cycling, then you should certainly stay away from doing it as it indicates that your rheumatoid arthritis is worsening.

If you want to reap the benefits of cycling to strengthen your bones, then you can try stationary cycling without much strain. Even in the case of stationary cycling, it can hurt you badly if your knees are bent too much or if you have incorrect seat height. Bending your knees too much during cycling exerts more pressure on your knees, ankles, and joints and can do more harm to you. In addition, you may have to bend your joints more if the handlebar is not high enough or if the seat is not parallel to the ground. You also need to check whether you experience flares after cycling, if so, then it is highly essential to stay away from cycling.

Swimming for longer duration

Many patients find it easy to do water based aerobics like swimming as the laps help to build muscle endurance and lung capacity, and swimming is considered much easier than lifting weights or other rigorous exercises. Even though the buoyancy of water is an ideal environment for relieving stiffness, swimming can be beneficial only if you are fit enough to reap its benefits and may not be the right exercise for patients who are already weaker, have swellings in the joints, and have difficulty in moving their body.

Moreover, water provides free movements and can soothe you well, but it can also aggravate the pain in your joints if you swim for longer duration. One of the best alternatives to reap the benefits of water therapy is to do water walking with floatation belt on. This would be much better if you do in a pool full of heated water than swimming in cold water for longer duration. If you feel pain in your joints after swimming, then you may want to stay away from it and try water walking instead.

Heavy weight lifting

This exercise can certainly pose serious problems in the long run. If your joints are already sore, weak, and swollen, then lifting heavy weights could only quicken the damage of joints. As a part of strength training program, some patients do believe that lifting heavy weights with sore joints could strengthen their muscles and reduce soreness and pain, but exerting more pressure on already worn out joints could eventually cause further damage to your joints.

Some people indulge in heavy weight lifting while having rheumatoid arthritis to address their low muscle mass and increased fat mass as both lead to fatigue. Even though it depends on a patient’s physical fitness, the risk involved in heavy weight lifting far outweigh its benefits. Simple and regular low intensity exercise like walking can address fatigue and weight gain problems easily, as strenuous exercise like heavy weight lifting could cause irreparable damage to joints or can result in deformity especially if a patient has more swelling in joints with weaker bones.

Kung fu

With swollen joints and knee pain, not many people think of kung fu while having rheumatoid arthritis. As kung fu involves a number of fighting styles and physical exercises involving animal mimicry, it is highly risky to practice kung fu with weak and swollen joints. Even though Kung fu is known to improve cardiovascular fitness and strengthens muscles, it can certainly increase the pain in knees, ankles, elbows, wrists and fingers. Kung fu is not fit for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and there are far simpler and easier ways to reduce inflammatory pains in joints than following complex animal mimicry. A few people who have done kung fu while having rheumatoid arthritis have experienced unbearable pain. So, it is better to stay away from it to prevent total damage to the joints.

Kick boxing

If you think of practicing kickboxing, then you must be in the initial stage of rheumatoid arthritis. In any case, kickboxing requires aggressive and free movements of arms and legs, which can only worsen the internal injury and can easily trigger a flair. Nowadays, kids as young as 15 are affected by rheumatoid arthritis and they don’t initially feel the pain in their joints, so when they take up kickboxing, it can only aggravate the condition internally without their knowledge. As kickboxing exerts lots of pressure on all joints, it should be avoided even during remission. However, during remission, you can rely on calcium rich diet to strengthen your bones before indulging in kickboxing again.

High jumping

High jumping exercise can cause serious injuries or in some cases, permanent damage to the joints and tissues. As high jumping exercise is a vertical leap exercise, it requires your muscles, bones and joints to be in excellent condition and is certainly not recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Practicing high jump can exert varying amount of pressure on various joints in your body and can quickly worsen the pain, in some cases high jump can lead to permanent damage if you don’t take enough care of your body. Moreover, high jump exercise involves deep knee bends which are not good for worn out knees.

Rock climbing

As rheumatoid arthritis patients often have constant pain, lack of energy and swelling, rock climbing may not be a good one to try. If you are in the first stage of rheumatoid arthritis, then rock climbing may seem possible, but it can worsen the damage depending on your general physical fitness. Rock climbing is certainly not for those who have severe joint pain. If you wish to take rock climbing, then you need to alter your diet with enough calcium in take to strengthen your bones during remission.

As rock climbing requires free movements of muscles and joints to climb up or down vertically, the movements do exert a lot of pressure on the joints and can certainly aggravate the pain in the case of worn out joints. Moreover, rock climbing requires excellent physical strength and endurance. If you have passion for rock climbing, then you need to wait until your knees and joints heal thoroughly and become firm.

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