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Best Aquatic Exercises to Relieve Arthritis

July 11, 2016
Amanda Curry
Read Time
3 minutes

This summer, it’s time to help your aching joints instead of further aggravating them by climbing the ladder to clean your gutters. Aquatic exercise is a great place to start. It’s a fun way to get moving, and, as an added bonus, can significantly help decrease pain, increase physical function, and improve sleep.

People are more buoyant in water, which makes aquatic exercise the perfect low impact option for those struggling with chronic pain. Before diving in, make sure the water is at a warmer temperature (82 to 88 degrees is optimal for arthritis relief, according to experts), and always practice safety first! Limber up with a few minutes of stretching, and make sure someone is nearby in case you get too tired or experience any problems while in the pool.

Not sure where to start? Check out these six aquatic exercises that can help relieve arthritis pain

Water Aerobics

Most people associate aquatic exercise with water aerobics, and for good reason! It’s a great form of exercise to get those muscles moving. Water aerobics involves coordinated movements that target strength and balance while improving the cardiovascular system. This is a fun exercise to do set to your favorite music. Many community centers, like YMCA, offer water aerobics classes, or you can check out YouTube for some great tutorials to try on your own.


You may be familiar with tai chi, the Chinese martial art focused on building strength and muscle control using fluid motions. But, what you may not have heard of is ai-chi, which applies tai chi principles and adapts them to be doable in the water. The slow, sustained movements are a great way to alleviate pain from aching muscles. In addition, ai chi helps put you in a serene state of mind, which can help put you in a better mindset despite your chronic pain even after you get out of the pool.

Prescriptive Exercise

In severe cases of arthritis, a rheumatologist may choose to supplement medicinal therapies with prescriptive exercise. Aquatic prescriptive exercise is a good option for low impact movement that will aid in stretching and strengthening muscles and joints. With the help of a physical therapist, arthritis patients can target areas that give them the most trouble to find much needed relief.

Swimming Laps

Swimming laps is an old classic. Whether you choose a front stroke, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly stroke, or some other variation, you’re sure to get some quality exercise. If you’ve got arthritis that causes pain in your shoulders or elbows, swimming laps can help improve range of motion and flexibility. Modifying moves using kickboards and other floating devices can help those who find swimming laps a little difficult at first. Swimming lessons can be helpful so that you can maintain proper form and avoid further injury.

Aqua Jogging

Aqua jogging is exactly what it sounds like – jogging in water! Being more buoyant in the water means you won’t have the jarring effects on your joints commonly seen when jogging on a treadmill or pavement, which means it’s great for people who suffer from arthritis in their knees. Aqua jogging is a great cardio exercise too, so if you find your lifestyle is a little more sedentary because of your pain, this can certainly get the heart pumping. Just be sure to start off slow and work your way up to more challenging routines like jogging in the deep end or strapping on weights.

Hot Tub Yoga

Have you ever heard of Bikram Yoga, or “hot yoga”? Hot tub yoga takes those same principles of upping the heat while performing traditional yoga movements and adapts the moves for use in water. This is a low impact form of exercise that can help those who have arthritis and chronic pain that responds well to heat.

The warm water will loosen your muscles and joints, giving you more range of motion. You’ll feel your body begin to stretch with each movement, which will also improve joint flexibility. You can even use the jets to get extra relief from sore, aching muscles. Be sure to drink lots of water to avoid dehydration, and don’t stay in the hot tub for more than 30 minutes at a time.

In addition to helping arthritis patients, aquatic exercise may also be beneficial for those experiencing post-surgery pain, or who have acute injuries, fibromyalgia, gout, and other chronic pain conditions. As with all exercise regimens, it is important to talk with your doctor to determine what is best for you based on your physical limitations. If you are wheelchair bound, they may also be able to give you information on handicap accessible pool facilities in your area.

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