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7 At-Home Exercises Safe for People with Joint Pain

By Jené Luciani
February 11, 2021

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you probably know that exercise is good for your joints. “Exercise actually improves joint function and mobility, which, in turn, is a preventive for further damage [for people with chronic joint pain],” says Jolene Ballard, a certified personal trainer in Stamford, Connecticut.

If you don’t have the luxury of a private home gym or access to a personal trainer, there’s no need to worry. You can still safely work out right at home and reap the benefits. Here, fitness experts describe the best exercises you can safely do at home, using just your own body weight—no equipment needed.

Restore the Core

A plank with a leg lift is a great way to safely stabilize your core, says Jennifer Cohen, performance-coach founder and CEO of No Gym Required. Here’s how to do it: “Push yourself up into the plank position, propping yourself up against your forearms,” explains Cohen. “Extend your legs fully and up on your toes, alternate lifting each leg in the air and return to the starting position.” Do three sets of 10 for each leg.

If you prefer a more upright core exercise, Ballard suggests a “Farmer’s Carry.” You can choose any type of weight you have at home and are comfortable holding (such as two large water jugs). With the weights at your side, walk forward for 30 seconds, keeping your core engaged and chest lifted. (If you don’t have the space indoors, you can walk outside or in circles.)

If the floor plank or even just the upright position causes you pain, these muscles can also be worked while sitting in a chair, explains certified personal trainer and retired professional firefighter Donna MacDonald. “Sit at the edge of the chair, sit tall, and lean back until you feel your abdominals engage. While squeezing the stomach, come back to an upright position,” MacDonald explains.

Take the Lunge

Lunges are an effective way to strengthen leg muscles, with minimum impact on joints. According to Los Angeles-based certified personal trainer KJ Zayon, there’s a variety of lunges you can do to work various muscles in the leg, and to keep it from getting stagnant, starting with the “slow lunge.”

To do the slow lunge, keep the abs tight, and use your back leg as a kickstand. “Keep the back leg straight and only bend the lead leg. Establish a range of motion that feels best for you,” she explains. Zayon recommends lightly placing your hands on a chair if you need to, for balance.

Other lunges that can be done are a “Slow Curtsy Lunge,” which is a similar exercise to the slow lunge only your back leg is crossing behind you, instead of straight behind you (like a curtsy). “Runner’s Lunge” and “Skater’s Lunge” are other variations you can do.

With all lunges, be sure that your knee doesn’t go over the foot of your lead leg, as that can put unwanted pressure on knees.

Walk It Out

Get some fresh air or hop on a treadmill and take a walk. “Power walking is a great way to get your heart rate into its aerobic and fat-burning zone, without putting as much stress on the joints as running or other forms of cardio can,” says Ballard. She recommends 45 minutes of walking a day and says that getting your walk in first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will help to burn stored body fat. To gently work the muscles a little harder, you can add small hand weights or ankle weights to your walk.

Step Up Your Game

Want an exercise that has a multitude of purposes, from cardio to working legs, abs, and glutes? Try step-ups. All you need is a bench, a low chair, or a sturdy crate that supports your body weight.

“Put one foot on top, making sure you keep all the weight in the heel,” Ballard explains. “Keep your leg on top of the bench the entire time and have the other foot come up to meet it, and then tap it back down. Do these 20 times on each side,” she advises.

Not only do step-ups work the glutes, quads and hamstrings, but they help to activate your abdominal muscles, as your core works to stabilize your body.

“Step-ups seem to defy all logic, when it comes to joint pain,” says Ballard. “I have worked with many clients with severe knee issues and this exercise actually helps to strengthen the muscles around the knee, lessening their knee pain!”

Push It

Traditional push-ups help increase chest strength, but they can put a lot of pressure on shoulders, elbows and wrists. A modified version, though, as described by MacDonald, will do the trick without hurting those tender spots.

“Using your kitchen counter, place your hands on the counter with shoulders over the wrists, then walk your feet back until you feel comfortable,” she explains. “Using the chest muscles, lower your chest in between your hands, pushing arms straight, then come back up again.” She advises keeping your back straight for proper form, and doing three sets of 10, with a 10-second rest in between, for a total of 30 modified push-ups.

It’s a Stretch

Stretching is key to lengthening your muscles, bringing heart rate down, and keeping joints flexible, says Ballard. She recommends yoga poses including “Downward Dog,” “Cobra Pose,” and “Child’s Pose,” for a full body stretch that doesn’t put too much pressure on the joints.

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