Musculoskeletal Health

Joint pains: How can physical activity help?

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions refer to any condition which affects the joints, bones and muscles. These will often be referred to as joint or muscle pains. There are more than 200 musculoskeletal conditions which affect a quarter of the adult population.

One of the most common questions for those who suffer from joint pain and muscle pain is: what exercises can I do?

The simple answer is: you should aim to do as much physical activity as possible to help avoid joint pain. You should aim for the recommended 150 minutes a week, but any activity is better than none. You should also aim to do low impact and strength based activities that work all the major muscle groups on at least 2 days a week.

If you want to get more active but struggle with joint or muscle pain, then there are plenty of resources to help. Despite common concerns that physical activity may make the pain worse for those who suffer from conditions such as Arthritis, physical activity actually is a proven method of helping you manage and improve joint pain over time.


Getting started: Living with joint pain

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Start gently and build up gradually

Decrease

Listen to your body and ease off if anything hurts

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Try to be active everyday – a little is better than nothing

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Reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down

Joint pain can be a result of an injury from sports, or down to MSK conditions such as arthritis. This generally occurs at an older age, but can happen to people of all ages. Joint pain can also be down to factors such as poor posture, or even overuse of the joints. Both of these can occur at work. For information on how to improve your health in the workplace, check out the Active at Work section.

Man stretching
Man experiencing joint pain

Living with joint paint doesn’t mean you have to give up exercise. You should start with low impact exercise and after a short time exercising with joint pain, your pain tolerance increases and things will begin to hurt less. Over time, you should also find it a little easier to push your limits, enabling you to do a little more each time.


Exercising and avoiding deconditioning

The Deconditioning Cycle occurs when a lack of activity (generally due to pain) results in the joints getting stiffer and the muscles weakening.

There are lots of different ways that you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.

Every little bit of movement can make a big difference and prevents deconditioning.

Helpful tips for keeping active with a MSK condition

See tips on getting started exercising with MSK conditions

  • Start gently and build up gradually. If you are new to activity build up slowly over 3-6 months
  • There may be activities you need to avoid or be careful with. There may also be some weeks when you have to do less. It is important not to suddenly start intense exercise that you are not used to
  • Try to be active everyday – a little is better than nothing
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down
  • Pace activity and rest when you need to – make the most of your better days

Suitable exercises for those living with MSK pains

  • Cardiovascular activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing
  • Strength activities such as resistance training, carrying heavy shopping and gardening
  • Stretches and exercises from Versus Arthritis ‘Let’s Move’ series.
  • Balance and mobility exercises such as Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi

You can also check out our section dedicated to exercises suitable for those living with health conditions here.


Healthcare Professionals

Below are some useful resources on benefits of remaining physically active with a MSK condition which you can download or signpost patients to. 

For further information about having conversations with people living with joint pain and physical activity please visit Moving Medicine and the E Learning Page for directive conversation support.

Lady stretching outside
Lady stretching to reduce back pain

How can physical activity help reduce chances of developing joint pain?

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Joint pain can often be linked to being overweight as it puts stress on the joints. Regular physical activity will help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing joint issues later in life.
  • Nutrients: Some structures including the nerves and the discs of the spine need movement to get nutrients and remain healthy and strong.
  • Strengthens muscles: Muscles get stronger the more they are worked and won’t tire as easily over time.
  • Reduced flare ups: Participants in a study who exercised regularly reported less regular flare-ups of joint pain.
  • Healthier lifestyle: On top of this, being active will help reduce stress levels, improve sleep and can also release endorphins which can help block pain signals from reaching the brain.

More facts about chronic joint pain:

  • Over 10 million people in the UK suffer from arthritis or similar conditions
  • 400,000 of these suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes by up to 60%
  • Whilst joint pain is typically associated with older people, it can be experienced by all ages. It is becoming increasingly prevalent in those aged 30-40 and the younger generation. Read more on our insight page.
  • 100% of participants enrolled on local sessions have suggested Qi Gong was beneficial to their pain symptoms and general wellbeing.
  • General lifestyle changes such as eating healthier and drinking more water can help lubricate your joints and reduce pain over time.

Resource bank for healthy joints

Downloadable resources


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