Home / Exercise / Weight Lifting and Arthritis

Weight Lifting and Arthritis

Four decades ago a doctor told me that based upon my family history of rheumatoid arthritis and symptoms, I should move away from the cold climate of Michigan or face being crippled in my thirties. I headed for the gym instead. Last year (at age 61) I had physical therapy to address a 1980’s softball injury, and the X-rays (according to the University of Michigan Sports Doctor) showed only minor signs of arthritis – even in my injured shoulder! One caveat – the part about leaving Michigan, in retrospect, was really good advice; but with no relation to the subject of this article.

I have learned, in these many years of playing the iron game, that exercising smart is preferential to exercising hard; especially as the sessions and years accumulate. Working out smart and hard is the best, but learning the right way to do things can keep progress at a maximum and injury at a minimum. One of the best weight sessions I ever had was at the end of my physical therapy last year. I dragged the PT into the gym and had her critique my exercise form and routine. I am amazed today that I had worked out for so many years while lacking the effectiveness that comes from doing things correctly. How you hold your shoulder, how you roll your shoulder blade before you move your arm – these little observations from her have made my recent sessions (especially bench pressing) totally a new experience that is yielding never-before-achieved progress.

I can only speak from my own experience, and I am an engineer and not a doctor. My experience with weight lifting has been very positive, but I am sure there are cases where great caution is demanded. Only a doctor and a physical therapist can help you regarding your own body and acticities. One important learning is that when a wieght-lifting program is started, your muscles will gain strength much more quickly than the connecting tissues (ligaments and tendons) will. It is very important to pace the addition of weight in exercises – I find that working up to exhaustion at twenty reps of an exercise, then adding weight so exhaustion is reached at ten reps and repeating the cycle, generally keeps the addition of weight at a healthy pace – for me.

The link for me has been simple – go to the gym regularly, practice good nutrition, and the effects of unavoidable irritations like (not severe) rheumatoid arthritis and other physical maladies will be reduced accordingly. Things still hurt, you slow down; but always remember that old age and skill will overcome youth and unbridled exuberance every time. This adage holds true in the weight game too.