People often associate joint pain with arthritis—specifically variations such as rheumatoid arthritis. However, arthritis is by no means the only cause of joint pain. The muscle groups surrounding joints are essential in joint movement, so overuse, underuse, and incorrect use of those groups can also lead to joint pain. So, the best way to prevent and combat joint pain? A carefully designed aerobic exercise program that gets you active several times a week and focuses on the muscles surrounding your joints. Here are some strengthening exercises to help and improve the range of motion in a few of your crucial joints.
- Windmills: Extend both arms straight out. Rotate your arms in a circular motion—both forward and backward. You may use extremely light weights if you choose, but they are not necessary. This exercise helps you improve the control in your rotator cuff.
- Pushups: When thinking about working out, pushups are one of the first exercises that come to mind. Pushups strengthen most of the upper body’s muscle groups, and especially those in the shoulder that support the rotator cuffs.
- Front Lateral Raises: This exercise strengthens the muscles surrounding your shoulders. Standing straight up with a dumbbell in each hand, raise one arm up so that it is straight and parallel with the floor. Take caution not to swing or drop the weights, but to control each movement for the best results.
- Assisted or unassisted pull-up: Grab the handles and pull yourself up until your chin is slightly over the bar. If you are doing the assisted version, adjust the weight so that the exercise is still difficult, but not impossible. This exercise strengthens the muscles surrounding your shoulders.
- Hamstring curls: Stand in front of a chair, putting all your weight on one leg. Extend your knee backwards by lifting your heel towards your buttocks and hold when you arrive at a 90-degree angle. This improves your hamstring muscles that support the rear section of your knee.
- One knee balance: Put your feet together on the floor shoulder width apart, and then lift one of your legs up. Have a support handy if you need but try to avoid using it. Be sure to avoid locking your knee. While this exercise is incredibly simple, it also is extremely effective. Your balance will improve, and you will strengthen the muscles that stabilize your knee.
- Squat: This is a common exercise that has value in strengthening several leg muscles, including the muscles that support your knees, as well as the hips and ankles. Start by standing feet shoulder width apart, and then—keeping your back straight and your stomach tight—drop your bottom down as if sitting in an invisible chair.
- Wall Seats: Stand flat against the wall, keeping your feet shoulder width apart. Slowly bend your knees until each leg forms a 90-degree angle. This exercise improves the muscles from your glutes all the way to those that support your knees.
- One-leg medicine ball toss: This one is a one knee balance—which means it also strengthens your knee—that forces you to use the muscles surrounding your ankles. Toss a medicine ball back and forth with a partner, or if you can’t find a partner, bounce it off the wall to yourself.
- Thera-band: While thera-bands are often used to help recover from an ankle injury, they can also help strengthen your ankles to prevent one. Extend your leg straight out, wrap the band around the top of your foot, and then work against the band—moving either to the right, the left, or toward yourself.
- Calf raises: There are plenty of variants to this exercise, but the basic premise is simple. Begin by standing flat-footed, and then shift your weight onto your tiptoes repeatedly and slowly. Your muscles in your calves, shins, and feet will be strengthened, including those that support your ankles.
- Heel Walking: Depending on the desired intensity, one can either stand or walk on their heels, an exercise that improves the shin muscles as well as those surrounding the ankle.
- Lunges: While lunges certainly work the knee and surrounding muscles, they also strengthen the hips. Start by extending one leg in front, and then lowering your whole body so that your forward knee creates a 90-degree angle. Repeat with the other leg.
- Lateral band walk: Wrap an elastic band just above your knees. Once you have it set up, ready yourself to do a squat—feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and the butt out slightly. While keeping your body facing forward, take slow sideways steps. This exercise specifically strengthens your hip abductors, which control the hips’ outward movements and, assuming they are strong enough, keep the knees properly aligned.
- Double-leg bridge: Lie flat on your back, place your arms at your side, and bend your knees. Lift your hips off the floor as you exhale, holding that position for about a second. This exercise strengthens your hip muscles.
- Side Leg Raises: Lying on your side with your legs on top of each other, raise the top leg until it is at a 45-degree angle from the floor. Hold it there for several seconds, let it down slowly, and repeat 10-15 times. Repeat on opposite side. This exercise particularly improves the muscles on the outside of your hips.
- Swimming: Swimming is a great joint-strengthener for anyone, but specifically those who already have joint pain, because there is minimal pressure on any specific joint. This full-body exercise can simultaneously work the muscles around all your joints.
- Yoga: While yoga does strengthen your muscles, it also improves your ability to control and stabilize them, which is an important factor in preventing joint injuries. Attending a yoga class or simply researching poses to try at home can help you improve your stability and avoid injury.
- Tai Chi: A slow, meditative martial art, tai chi involves slow, controlled methodical movements that flow together. Like swimming and yoga, the low-impact nature of the moves allows you to build muscles around your joints without stressing them.