One of the best treatments for Arthritis: EXERCISE & how Pilates fits the bill

In Blog by PixelWhip

For many years, rheumatologists and Arthritis Foundations internationally have recommended exercise as one of the primary management tools for arthritis, with research showing it to be one of the most effective treatments.

While it is extremely important to adhere to the medical management regime prescribed by your GP or rheumatologist (particularly with immune-mediated disease), exercise as an adjunct is a highly effective and proven treatment.

Studies show that in the population with arthritis, those who don’t exercise suffer more joint discomfort than those who do. Being sedentary can began a downward spiral where pain increases, leading to more inactivity which leads to greater pain and disability.


“Arthritis affects over 3 million people of all ages including children, adolescents and young adults, as well as older people.  More than half of all people with arthritis are aged less than 65,” said Ainslie Cahill, CEO of Arthritis Australia.

Arthritis is in fact an umbrella term for more than 100 conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically joints.

The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
  • Scleroderma


Research shows that the components of physical fitness that help those with arthritis are:

  • muscular strength and endurance
  •  cardiovascular endurance
  • weight loss (significantly reduces joint load)
  •  range of motion/flexibility work
  •  posture/body mechanics
  •  balance and coordination
  •  body awareness training
  •  breathing and relaxation techniques

Just as importantly, physical activity is shown to enhance immune functioning and improve sleep, energy levels and mental well-being.


No. You should stop exercising if it is causing you unusual pain or increases your pain beyond what is normal for you. Exercising through this type of pain may lead to injury or worsening of your arthritis symptoms. (Note many people with arthritis have some amount of pain all the time. This is not a reason to avoid exercise. You should only stop if you notice extra or unusual pain while you are exercising).


What kind of movement will help and not exacerbate an already painful condition?

It is common to want to avoid exercising for fear of ‘flaring’ of symptoms or damaging joints.  The problem is that rest and lack of exercise or activity may lead to muscular atrophy and a decrease in joint mobility.

The right exercise must achieve the goals of relieving joint stiffness, restoring or maintaining joint range of motion, maintaining strength, and improving posture without irritation.

In general, low impact exercise is recommended such as:

  • brisk walking
  • exercising in water, such as swimming or water exercise classes
  • Tai chi and gentle vinyasa yoga
  • Pilates (which also teaches correct form and alignment for other activities)
  • cycling
  • dancing

There is no single exercise recommended for everyone with arthritis, but here are reasons why Pilates fits the bill for an excellent management regime:


Pilates achieves these exercise goals in way that is ideal for arthritis sufferers. This system works with mindful optimal movement patterns and breathing.We know that the more we move and breathe, the better the circulation around the body which carries nourishment to the joint, moves synovial fluid and removes waste products from the tissues.

Pilates is ideal movement in that it includes low velocity, low impact, flowing movements which promote joint health.

It needs to be noted that while Pilates can be very beneficial for arthritis, the approach needs to be individualised and not just a generic class initially. CLINICAL PILATES (as distinct from Classical Pilates) starts with a physiotherapist assessment and identifies imbalance, injury and pathology in the individual. Exercises are carefully selected to ensure optimal gains whilst minimizing the likelihood of aggravation.

In Pilates, the emphasis is on the importance of beginning movement from a central core of stability around the pelvis and spine.

From this central core, the intensity of each exercise is adjusted using differing length levers (limb levers) and resistance (bands or equipment). By concentrating on precise and flowing movement and awareness of breath, the individual can correct abnormal patterns of movement through repetition. By varying our working positions (lying, all fours, seated, standing) and increasing load and complexity, we achieve a carryover effect into daily function with enhanced balance, co-ordination and body and breath awareness.

The concept is that weakness or misalignment in one area leads to compensation and overdevelopment in another area. Some structures become overstretched and unstable and some too stiff. Of course, when there isalso a disease process such as arthritis at play, there is additional cause for these imbalances. The Pilates system aims to restore this balance.

In the Victoria Physiotherapy Pilates classes:

  • You are encouraged to move at your own pace and listen to your body. We are aware that what is available to you on any given day is likely to be changeable.
  •  The equipment and comfort props we use enable us to find just the right support, load and position ideal for your joint care, allowing us to control the joints in a pain fee range of motion.
  •  The Pilates Equipment is often much easier to transition between positions than other gym equipment or just a floor mat.
  • Every client’s program is individually tailored and modified as required.

For more information regarding arthritis education, services and support, see: