Does Weightlifting Cause Joint Problems?
Nearly 15 million adults in the United States live with joint pain associated with arthritis. Along with daily pain, arthritis can cause a lack of mobility, muscle weakness and fatigue. If you’re experiencing pain because of arthritis, it can almost seem counter-intuitive to engage in an activity like weightlifting. The last thing you want to do is engage in an activity that’s often associated with pain and discomfort.
What many adults don’t realize is that doctors often recommend weightlifting to manage, and even decrease, the pain and discomfort caused by joint pain. It’s so important that the Centers for Disease Control recommend incorporating strength training activities into your exercise routine twice a week.
When you regularly work to strengthen your muscles, they can do a better job of holding your joints in place. When your joints aren’t sliding around as much, you’re likely to notice:
- Decreased pain and swelling
- Increased mobility
- Decreased bone loss
In other words, lifting weights can ease the very symptoms you’re worried about aggravating.
Can Weightlifting Contribute to or Cause Joint Damage?
Strength training is often associated with young muscular guys who live in the gym. It conjures up pictures of bench pressing and barbells and lots of heavy metal plates. Although this is certainly one form of weightlifting, it’s not really what we’re talking about when we refer to strength training.
Strength training is a physical exercise in which your muscles are made to contract over and over to make them stronger over time. For most people, this is done using light hand weights or, in some cases, straps, belts or body weight.
Strength training — when done correctly — is a beneficial and therapeutic solution to reducing the pain and inflammation associated with joint damage. You don’t get joint pain from lifting weights. You find relief from joint pain through lifting weights.
So why do so many people associate lifting weights with joint damage? A lot of adults who devote a lot of time to bodybuilding will regularly complain about aches and pains in their joints, especially as they age. But often those aches and pains are related to their continued use of improper form when lifting weights or lifting more weight than they should. Over time, incorrect form can contribute to injury and painful muscle strains, as well as painful joints.
When a person lifts weights using the proper form and proper weight for their body and ability, weightlifting can strengthen muscles around the joints. As those muscles become stronger, the joints don’t slide around as much, meaning they are more likely to work correctly, reducing the occurrence and severity of pain.
One of the biggest things to remember when it comes to arthritis and physical activity is this: Inactivity is more harmful to arthritis than being active. Your strength training exercises will help with pain management and can improve your quality of life.
Connection Between Arthritis and Weightlifting
Arthritis is best defined as painful tenderness and swelling in one or more joints in the body. The most common form of arthritis — osteoarthritis — typically occurs with age because the cartilage that protects the bones begins to wear away. When the cartilage wears away, bone rubs against bone, which can be painful.
Over time, the pain associated with arthritis can fluctuate depending on the cause of the condition and its progression.
There has been a lot of talk about the impact that lifting weights can have on the human body and whether weightlifting can actually cause arthritis. The big question everyone seems to ask is: Are weightlifters more likely to develop arthritis later in life?
Lifting weights itself does not cause arthritis. If you walk into a gym and pick up a barbell, you aren’t facing a lifetime of pain and suffering. While weightlifting doesn’t cause arthritis, how you lift can affect how you feel. Some factors seem to link weightlifting and joint pain.
- Weightlifters Weigh More. If you lift weights regularly then you’ve likely built up a significant amount of muscle mass, and muscle adds to your overall body weight. Carrying extra weight can put more pressure on the joints, increasing pain and discomfort. Maintaining a healthy body weight is the best thing you can do to manage joint pain. If you’re not sure what a healthy weight is for you, then it’s important to consult your doctor.
- Weightlifters Face a Higher Risk of Injury. Someone who practices weightlifting as their primary form of exercise does face the risk of injury from improper form or an accident that occurs while lifting. And, science has shown that injury to the body can result in arthritis later on. However, this type of injury isn’t unique to weightlifting, nor is it a given if you do lift weights. Also called “Post Traumatic Arthritis,” this condition can occur after sustaining an injury from any kind of physical activity. Often occurring decades after the original injury, this condition currently impacts 23 percent of adults in the U.S.
- Weightlifters Don’t Always Do Things Right. Yes, there are weightlifters who rely on an improper form or lift more than their bodies can handle. But any sport, or any kind of exercise, carries the same risk. If you are exercising using incorrect posture or doing more than you can handle, over time those incorrect habits put unnecessary pressure on the joints, leading to injury. When strength training exercises are done correctly, there is no reason to believe they will cause injury or additional discomfort.
Benefits of Strength Training For Joints
Improper form and a lack of knowledge are the reasons that weightlifting has such a bad reputation when it comes to arthritis. The truth is that lifting weights with arthritis can be a great addition to your pain management plan. What are some of the benefits?
- Reduces Joint Pain. Lifting weights has been found to reduce the pain associated with arthritis by approximately 35 percent. If you’re living in pain every day, that number alone should be enough to get you up and out the door. Movement and strengthening exercises help to loosen up those achy joints and get you feeling more like yourself. And that’s not just for those suffering from osteoarthritis. Research has also shown that exercise goes a long way in reducing discomfort for adults suffering from inflammatory arthritis conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Strengthens the Muscles Surrounding Joints. The reason that lifting weights does such an excellent job of reducing pain levels in the joints is because its primary purpose is to strengthen the muscles in the body. When you focus on strengthening the muscles that are directly connected to the joints that are causing pain and discomfort, those muscles become stronger and can function at their full capacity. One study found that individuals who engaged in regular strength training exercises saw a 33 percent increase in muscle strength and function. When your muscle function is improved, you’ll notice a decrease in pain and greater mobility.
- Weight Loss. In some cases, lifting weights may help you lose the extra pounds that may be contributing to your pain and discomfort. Aerobic workouts are great for improving heart health and burning calories. Strength training is where you’re going to start seeing the numbers on the scale slide backward. And when you’re suffering from painful joints, every pound lost is a step toward pain reduction. Why? For every extra pound of weight your body carries around, four additional pounds of pressure are placed on your knees. If you’re 10 pounds overweight, then you’re putting 40 extra pounds of pressure on your knees. If you’re twenty pounds overweight, 80 extra pounds are pressing on your knees.
- Prevention of Pain. Even if you aren’t experiencing severe joint pain, weightlifting is an excellent preventative measure to protect the health of your joints. Besides helping with weight management, it strengthens and maintains the health of your muscles and mobility of your joints, preventing problems later on.
- Improved Mental Health. Any physical activity is going to produce endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that your body uses to boost your mood, as well as your energy levels and outlook on life. When you feel happier, you’re more motivated to keep moving, one of the best things you can do to reduce joint pain. Although there’s no cure for arthritis, staying positive and active can also go a long way toward preventing feelings of loss or depression in response to your condition. Take the opportunity to start a new fitness regimen and keep yourself engaged in the process by setting goals and celebrating each milestone you reach — even the small ones.
Where Do I Start?
You’re convinced that strength training is just what you need to take back your life and reduce your pain. But before you rush to your nearest gym and start pumping iron, there are a few things you need to do first:
- Talk to Your Doctor. Before you incorporate exercise into your treatment plan, talk with your doctor about the best way to start. Because there are over 100 different types of arthritis, your doctor will consider your specific health needs and help you determine a course of action, including recommending specific exercises, physical therapy or personal training to help you get started safely. Your doctor can also help to monitor fluctuations in your pain levels, as well as keep an eye on your weight.
- Go Slowly. Take the time to learn what you’re doing. Hiring a personal trainer who has experience working with adults with joint pain is one of the best ways to ease into strength training safely and healthily. Start with light weights — or even no weights at all — until you understand the proper way to hold your body during each repetition. Some people even start with soup cans until they’re ready for more traditional weights. Remember that the results you’re looking for won’t come from doing things quickly. The results you’re looking for will happen slowly over time. But they’re worth waiting for.
- Pay Attention to Your Body. Our bodies are designed to give us signals when something doesn’t feel right or is potentially causing harm. If you’re a little stiff or sore after a workout, that’s normal. If you’re experiencing muscle soreness after your workout, you can apply ice to the affected area to reduce pain and inflammation. If you experience sharp pain during your workout or discomfort that persists, that may be a sign that something isn’t right. Don’t try to push through pain like that. If you have lingering pain that wasn’t there before, talk with your doctor to make sure you haven’t injured something.
- Don’t Push Through Flare-Ups. If you’re in the middle of a particularly painful arthritis flare-up, then it’s important to take a break from weightlifting until it subsides. It’s important to listen to your body. During flare-ups, find gentler, low impact activities to engage in and allow your body the rest it needs.
Excellence In Fitness
If you’re suffering from joint pain, you might feel motivated to start exercising, but unsure what kinds of weights and exercises will help you. Whatever your situation, there’s a solution for you at Excellence in Fitness.
Providing customized personal training in and around the Severna Park, MD area, Excellence In Fitness isn’t your typical gym. Our goal isn’t just to help you look good — although you probably will. Our goal isn’t just to change the number on the scale — but that will probably happen anyway. Our goal is to develop a personalized training program that will help you feel better and provide you with the confidence you need to make it through your day. Although our programs are open to adults of all ages, we are committed to developing successful exercise programs for adults over 50, especially those suffering from joint pain associated with arthritis.
If you’re suffering from joint pain, and you want to make a change, let us help you. Schedule your free consultation and demo workout today.