Pain Management, Sports Medicine

April 11, 2019

Dr. Bowen’s Tips for Low-Impact Exercise


When painful joints make it difficult—or even impossible—to exercise, how can you keep your body healthy? Consider these low-impact alternatives from Dr. Scott Bowen.

Physical exercise on a daily basis is important for your cardiovascular health and overall well-being. While some people can easily tolerate high-impact activities like running or weightlifting, many others experience too much pain in their joints—from arthritis, age, injury, obesity, or other factors—to be able to participate in these exercises.

For these patients, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Bowen recommends lower-impact exercises that don’t put as much stress on your back, hips, knees, and ankles. These gentler alternatives allow your body to get the exercise it needs without causing unnecessary joint pain.

Low-Impact Exercises

Here are some of the low-impact activities Dr. Bowen suggests for those suffering from joint pain:

Stationary & Road Biking
Whether you prefer the convenience of a gym or the beauty of the great outdoors, biking is an excellent exercise option for people living with joint pain. Biking eliminates the hard impacts your ankles, hips, and knees experience when you run or jog. In addition, the synovial fluid produced by continuous cycling movements can help lubricate your hips and knees.

There are many different types of bicycles to choose from, depending on which joints are causing you pain. For example:

  • Comfort bikes feature high handlebars that allow you “to ride in a more neutral, upright and relaxed position, which can reduce stress on the back, shoulders and arms,” according to
  • Recumbent bikes are ideal for people with lower back pain and/or hip pain because their seats allow you to recline. The reclined position means your weight is more evenly spread across your back and rear, reducing stress on your spine.
  • Standard upright bikes can be used if you don’t have back pain. Biking upright engages the muscles in your abdomen and shoulders, as well as your biceps and triceps, helping make them stronger.

Elliptical Training
Using an elliptical exercise machine involves moving your legs in continuous gliding motions that are much gentler than the joint-jarring steps taken when jogging. During an elliptical exercise, your feet don’t lose contact with the machine, so your body weight is never fully placed on one foot. This reduces the stress on your hips, knees, and ankles, leaving you able to concentrate on engaging your muscles and getting your heart rate up without the distraction of painful joints.

Swimming & Water Aerobics
“Swimming is excellent cardiovascular exercise and is certainly much easier on the joints,” says Dr. Bowen. “Thirty minutes of swimming a day actually burns more than twice as many calories as thirty minutes of walking.”

If you aren’t a strong swimmer, consider water aerobics instead. Many community centers with pools have water aerobics classes or other water-based activities that can get you moving with less joint pain than other exercises.

If you don’t have access to a bicycle, gym, or pool, give walking a try. While walking can be painful if you are not careful, there are some precautions you can take to minimize the stress it puts on your joints.

“Sometimes it is just a matter of avoiding hills, unleveled ground, concrete or asphalt,” Dr. Bowen explains. When you have joint pain, it’s best to walk on natural surfaces, such as grass or a smooth dirt path. Tracks at schools, parks, and gyms are also usually softer than concrete and asphalt.

Tips for Exercising with Joint Pain

  • Stay out of the cold. When the temperature drops, relocate your exercises indoors to protect your joints. Swap your ten-speed for a stationary bicycle, find an indoor pool in your area, or look for a gym with an enclosed walking track. Mall walking is another winter alternative if you find you can walk on concrete tile without too much pain.
  • Take it easy.You don’t have to push yourself to exhaustion as soon as you begin an exercise regimen. Start slow and listen to your body to avoid aggravating your joints.
  • Manage your pain. For some, anti-inflammatory medicine is enough for joint pain relief. However, if NSAIDs aren’t enough and you still experience too much pain in your joints to start exercising, see your physician.

Living with Joint Pain

If you are living with debilitating joint pain that makes it too difficult to participate in even low-impact exercise, it may be time to learn if one of our pain management services, total joint replacement procedures, or other treatments can help. Contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital at (877) 918-7020 to make an appointment with Dr. Bowen.

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