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When Moving Is Painful

I’ve been really struggling with exercise lately, as in I am feeling pain with any movement and so have been avoiding it too much. My morning exercises have gone by the wayside and my evening routine is becoming a distant memory. What to do when moving is painful?

One of the terrible truths is that the longer I go without exercising, the harder it is to get started again. Swimming is my favorite way to get exercise (actually, I do aquatic stretches and aerobics), but logistical problems outside my control put a stop to pool access that I have not yet been able to regain.

Could swimming be the best exercise for those living with RA?

The reason I love the water is that it is easier and more supportive of my joints. I do feel rusty when I get started, but always feel a little looser after I finish than when I began. And I can always end with a short stint in the whirlpool, which always helps to alleviate my rheumatoid arthritis aches. Actually, on very bad days I go straight to the whirlpool and do light exercises in there so as to move my joints while primarily focusing on soothing my joint pains.

Recently, I just have been very achy. Not even moving, and I am achy! I wake up feeling tired and achy. And then by the end of the day, even more achy. I have found it impossible to motivate myself to exercise when I feel both exhausted and pained by my RA to this degree.

Of course, it is important to point out that maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad if I were doing my exercises! Guilty! I have been indulging in the whining, when I should be doing at least a little more physical activity.

Baby steps towards feeling better through activity

My head has been losing this battle and it needs to get a better game. I have to start with baby steps—doing a little joint stretching in the morning, then middle of the day, then evening. I can’t start out with my walking circuit and weight-lifting when I’ve been out of the habit for so many weeks.

In the past, I have found it helpful to track my activity because it becomes a sort of competition with myself. Can I do it again today? Can I aim for more tomorrow? Can I do it for so many days in a row? But after some time, I usually do feel better and stronger. I won’t be competing in the Olympics, but maybe the day will become a little easier.

When I am in this much constant discomfort, I do need to pay attention. I can’t over do the exercise as that could result in injury or sliding back even further into inactivity. Too much, too soon is a bad thing. But too little activity is also bad for me.

During my stints in physical therapy, they would recommend that I take a little something for my pain ahead of time. If I did that before leaving home, enough time would pass until the appointment to have a little preventative medicine in action. Perhaps this is something I should try now with a little prednisone, but before doing that I will consult my doctor. If it helps to get in a little more activity, I would then be able to wind it down as I feel better.

Exercise is not only about maintaining my RA as best as possible, but also keeping up my strength and endurance. After a period of not enough physical activity, I feel my energy is harder to keep up and that I have to strain to accomplish what I want to do. Time to move beyond the pain and get back on that exercise horse.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Anke Schliessmann
    2 years ago

    Kelly, you’re on to something here. Recently I struggle a lot to go to the gym for exercising. I know that it will do good to me but not immediately. I am gaining the benefits over time. But the past weeks I was in pain and so tired I just didn’t manage to motivate myself to go there.
    On the other hand I will never skip my weekly horse riding as long as I’m not on holiday or business travel or severely sick. This is not the kind of horse riding for shows under pressure for performance. I found a barn where they practice therapeutic riding only in all varieties that are possible.
    Severely handicapped people (both in body or mind) come to this place as well as MS, Fibromyalgia and as me RA patients, with handicaps which are sometimes not as visible. Horses ever had a very positive impact on me. I was horse riding when I was young, but unfortunately skipped it during studying and when I started my professional life. I changed my priorities once again when I got sick and still stick to that. But what do I gain from it?

    1. It’s a therapy for be, with smooth movements when cleaning the horse before the training. If I have to much pain there are enough people to support me if necessary. The smooth movements in the horse’s walk when I sit on top are loosing tender muscles and joints. If I’m doing not so well I will just go walk, no need for trot or cancer. In better days it is just fun to do the quicker gaits.
    2. I’m able to transfer the feeling of being carried into my daily life. Even though it is only a weekly session of 45 mins, this feeling stays for the rest of the week.
    3. Sometimes I do to much and this ends up in pain in the evening or on worse occasions even for days, but this is really worth it for me, and I use pain killers in that case as well to help me through at least my working day(s), sometimes I take them even preventive when I’m not doing so well.
    4. When I (re-)started horse riding I recognised that I was missing to be among happy people. I noticed when I visited that barn the first time that I didn’t see that many happy people at once for a long time.
    5. No matter what disabilities the riders (or patients) have, we have all on thing in common – the love and empathy for horses and like to be in their company. And I need to say that there is a big variety of people at that barn.
    6. I gain at least some “exercise” regularly even if I consider myself not being able to attend the gym.
    7. I feel very comfortable cuddling the horses with their warm skin (even in winter) and their gentle mind.

    The most important thing is that you can tailor the trading/therapy on your needs and (dis)abilities accompanied by the most important therapist – the horse as well as human therapists with an according education and supporting people to lead the horse if you do not have the capability to.

    So yes, you are right I get literally back on that “exercise” horse weekly.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Anke, thanks so much for your comment. It’s wonderful to read how much horseback riding helps you. Sounds to me that while the exercise is good, perhaps the interaction with a loving animal and supportive people may be even more helpful for you. So happy that you have found this therapy for your soul and your RA. 🙂 Keep at it! Best, Kelly

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    2 years ago

    Last week I got back on my bicycle after two weeks. I think I just about lost everything I had gained. I hate when that happens. It will take 3 weeks to get back. Goodness moving can be tough sometimes.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Totally been there Rick! I just had a really great week of doing my swimming on 6 out of 7 days! I know that I can’t keep up that pace (and maybe it was too much!), but I am definitely feeling better when I can go more often. Hope that you are feeling better back on the bike! Best, Kelly

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