Arthritis is a form of joint disorder that involves inflammation of one or more joints.
An arthritic joint will move more effectively if a strong muscle is controlling it, rather than a weak muscle (1).
Research shows that strength training reduces the severity of rheumatoid arthritis and improves functional and motor activity. In one study, a high intensity training workout program using exercise machines produced statistically better clinical effectiveness than remedial gymnastics for the joints. The mean strength of extension of the weak and strong knee joints increased by 87.9% and 70.5% respectively, the strength of flexion of the severely and less severely affected ankle joints increased by 84.6% and 68.8% respectively. Researchers concluded that for younger patients with rheumatoid arthritis (under 40 years of age), high intensity training with the use of exercise machines should be recommended (2).
In another study, eight subjects with rheumatoid arthritis, 8 healthy young subjects, and 8 healthy elderly subjects underwent 12 weeks of high-intensity progressive resistance training, while 6 elderly subjects performed warm-up exercises only. Fitness, body composition, energy expenditure, function, disease activity, pain, and fatigue were measured at baseline and follow-up. The researchers concluded: high-intensity strength training is feasible and safe in selected patients with well-controlled rheumatoid arthritis and leads to significant improvements in strength, pain, and fatigue without exacerbating disease activity or joint pain (3).
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(1) D. McGuff and J. Little, Body by Science (McGraw-Hill publishing, 2009).
(2) B.F. Hurley, S.M. Roth, “Strength training in the elderly: effects on risk factors for age-related diseases,” Sports Medicine 30, no 4 (Oct 2000): 49-68. link
(3) E.V. Orlova, D.E. Karateev, A.V. Kochetkov, T.E. Mozhar, “The comparative effectiveness of high-intensity dynamic training with the use of exercise machines and therapeutic gymnastics for the joints in the patients presenting with early rheumatoid arthritis,” Voprosi Kurortologii Fizioterapii, i Lechebnoi Fizicheskoi Kultury 2 (Mar-Apr 2013):14-9. [Russian] link