Social Distancing and Joint Pain – A Few Things to Consider

If you struggle with arthritic pain, being in self-isolation or quarantine from the COVID-19 virus could leave you feeling like you don’t have many options to keep moving. Here are a few things to consider during this time.
March 30, 2020 | 3 min read
Christa S. Plew, MBA
Editor-in-Chief

Chronic pain affects about 50 million Americans, many of whom struggle with joint pain caused by conditions like osteoarthritis.1 If you're one of these individuals, the idea of staying home to maintain "social distancing" might seem especially challenging.

After all, if you can't go to your gym, make your physical therapy appointment, or even take a walk around your neighborhood, how are you supposed to stay on top of your chronic health condition? Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your arthritic pain and stay active at home...plus a couple reasons why it's important that you do. Always ask your doctor before engaging in any activity, to make sure it is suitable for your particular condition.

Why movement matters for people with joint pain (especially during social distancing)

Many health experts encourage adults to move every day—whether that's by doing an actual workout or just adding in an extra activity like walking, stretching, or household chores. Advice like this is especially important for folks with arthritic pain. Here's why:

Some research tells us that regular exercise, including low-impact aerobic activities and stretching, can improve pain and function in people with arthritis and other joint conditions.2 Exercise is also an excellent stress-buster and helps you sleep, which is important for better mood and immune health.3 And since we know pain often feels worse under times of stress, regular activity is a good way to manage your chronic pain condition as well as your mental health and mood.4

So, how much should you be moving, even when you're sheltering at home or quarantined?

A general goal, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is to get a total of 30 minutes of moderately intense activity on all, or at least most, days of the week.5 At this intensity, your heart rate is up and you may get a little sweaty, but you should still be able to hold a short conversation.

Seems pretty reasonable, right? The good news is that some activity is better than no activity.6 So, if you're not able to do a half hour of exercise, you can still benefit from doing less—even just 5 to 10 minutes can be beneficial.

Ways to manage your joint pain while social distancing

If you're currently not able to get to the gym or spend time outside, here are some ideas for staying active and managing your pain anyway.

  • Catch up on household chores. Vacuuming, dusting, and other spring cleaning tasks are all great examples of at-home physical activity. Be sure to use good body mechanics while doing these chores to stay joint-safe (for example, avoid excessive bending or twisting while lifting objects).
  • Stand, stretch, and move during commercial breaks.
  • Fit in mini-workouts during downtime (e.g., while you're waiting for the oven to preheat).
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about prescription deliveries.
  • Ask your physical therapist or doctor for a home exercise program. Your program can include general activities, or specific exercises, to manage pain in specific joints like your shoulder, back, hip, or knees. With your medical provider's supervision, you can also look up at-home workouts from places like YouTube or even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.7 A lot of these workouts require no added equipment.

If you don't think you can physically or even emotionally handle 30 total minutes of exercise per day, that's okay! Worrying too much about what you "should" be doing may end up making your pain worse and add to your stress and anxiety. And, no matter what’s going on in the world right now, we encourage you to do your part to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community healthy.

References
  1. Searing, L. (2018, Oct 21). The Big Number: 50 million adults experience chronic pain. The Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-big-number-50-million-adults-experience-chronic-pain/2018/10/19/30831828-d2e0-11e8-83d6-291fcead2ab1_story.html
  2. Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthrits (2020). Arthritis Foundation. www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/getting-started/benefits-of-exercise-for-osteoarthritis
  3. Understanding the Facts Physical Activity Reduces Stress (2020). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st
  4. Ahmad, A. and Zakaria, R. (2015, Dec 22) Neuroscience Pain in Times of Stress. Malays J Med Sci. Special Issue: 52–61. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4795524/
  5. President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (2019, Feb. 1). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
  6. How 10 Minutes Can Be a Workout (2020). SmokeFree.gov. https://smokefree.gov/stay-smokefree-good/get-active/how-10-minutes-can-be-workout
  7. Seguin, R. et al. (2020). Growing Stronger – Strength Training for Older Adults. Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/growing_stronger.pdf
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