Should you exercise with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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If you read this blog, you know that I have pretty severe Rheumatoid Arthritis.  You also know that I exercise as often as I am able, and I feel that it helps keep my joints mobile, and my body healthy.

At the moment, I am not allowed to exercise.  My right shoulder is in bad shape.  The pain is often excruciating, and sometimes it’s frozen to my side.

Then other days it is not too bad at all.

My doctor thought it might be injured, because the pain seemed too severe to him.  Welcome to inflammatory arthritis – it hurts a lot!

I’m convinced that it’s ‘just’ arthritis, but I am humouring my doctor and taking a break from the gym.  Just to see whether the gym is doing me good, or doing me harm.  There is really only one way to find out.  Take a break.  See if I improve, or deteriorate.

At this point, I would say my shoulder has improved some.  But it still flares painfully.  So four weeks of rest hasn’t ‘healed’ an injury.  Rest is not the answer for my shoulder.

The rest of my body is considerably stiffer, and less flexible.  My Centergy (yoga/pilates based class) makes a huge difference to my flexibility.  Resting has not helped my overall stiffness.

My Power (pump, weights to music) class makes a huge difference to my strength. Resting has not helped my overall strength.

Next week I will be allowed to go back to my Ride class (spin).  So I can get my cardiovascular fitness back in shape.  Resting has certainly not helped my cardiovascular fitness.

I keep a daily log of my pain levels, and while it goes up and down, there is no downward trend during the last four weeks.  Resting has not helped my daily pain.

The other reason I’m not supposed to exercise is because I have been getting heart palpitations and chest pain.  I had an ECG yesterday which was clear.  My doctor said if I get chest pain while exercising, to stop.   He suspects pericarditis (inflammation of the lining of your heart).  If the heart lining is inflamed, it ‘squeezes’ your heart, and puts pressure on it, so you shouldn’t stress it.  So I will only do light workouts, for another week, until my doc okays me to work harder.  Pericarditis sounds worse than it is, in my case.

Resting from the gym has been a very valuable test however.  People tell me all the time that I shouldn’t exercise, or that I can’t have very bad Rheumatoid Arthritis if I can exercise daily.

Well, that just shows their ignorance.

One of the hallmarks of inflammatory arthritis is that it improves with exercise.  Degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) tends to get worse with use.  Inflammatory arthritis tends to get better with use.  I know this is not true for everyone, but it is certainly true for me.  I always have pain in my hands, feet, knees, hips and lower back.  If I can get through the first ten painful minutes of a workout, the pain decreases radically.  Mid workout is the best that I ever feel.  So I like to exercise!

I have often wondered, however, if while exercising is doing my muscles, heart and lungs good, if it is perhaps increasing my daily pain levels.  This last four weeks would imply that no, it is not.  My pain levels are exactly the same.  My stiffness is worse.  So this is proof enough to me that I should continue to push through the pain to work out at the gym. Even if it’s only a light workout on a recumbent bike.

The benefits to my overall health are clear.

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