Sports: a great help in managing rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common autoimmune inflammatory joint disease that often results in stiffness and limited movement. However, the effects of RA extend beyond the joints as it can also affect general well-being and quality of life. Physical activity and sports can be a supportive measure for people with rheumatoid arthritis and have a positive impact on various aspects of this disease.

Here you will find some suggestions.

The importance of sports in rheumatoid arthritis

1 Joint function and mobility

One of the most common effects of rheumatoid arthritis is reduced joint function and mobility. Suitable exercise can help strengthen muscles and mobilise joints, which can improve overall mobility and help make everyday activities easier.

2 Pain management and anti-inflammation

Although exercise should be avoided during periods of active inflammation, certain exercises and movements can help relieve pain and reduce inflammatory responses. The release of endorphins during exercise can act as natural pain relief and improve overall well-being.

3 Physical fitness and weight management

People with rheumatoid arthritis may have difficulty staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise can help increase physical fitness and promote a healthy weight, which in turn can reduce stress on the joints.

4 Mental health and stress reduction

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause psychological distress as the disease affects daily life and quality of life. Exercise can reduce stress, improve your mood, and contribute to a positive attitude towards coping with the disease.

Physical activity to help with rheumatoid arthritis

Patients with rheumatic inflammatory diseases should have plenty of exercise. The principle applies: You rest, you rust!

Today, there is a wide range of sports to choose from. However, you should always try and avoid undue stress on your joints and forego activities with a high risk of injury. This applies to, in particular, competitive ball sports such as football or handball. Here, the start/stop loads on the weight-bearing joints are sometimes extremely high. Swimming, on the other hand, is ideal because all of your joints are exercised more gently, using the buoyancy of the water.

The table below is only intended as a rough overview. In individual cases, it makes sense to discuss with a rheumatologist which type of sport is suitable or unsuitable. How intensively the sport is practiced should be taken into consideration as well as your age and training level when choosing the right kind of sport. Generally speaking though, any sport – within reason – is better than no sport at all.

Rheumatism and sports

Strength training, jogging or swimming?

Suitable Conditionally suitable Unsuitable
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Gymnastics
  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Strength training
  • Fitness training
  • Rowing
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Football
  • Handball
  • Tennis
  • Squash
  • Badminton
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Athletics
  • Martial arts

People with rheumatoid arthritis are eligible to practice functional training in a group for up to two years. This training, in the form of gymnastics or water gymnastics, is usually held by a physiotherapist. The courses are tailored to the needs of patients with rheumatism.

In order for the costs to be covered, the sports provider must be recognised by your health insurance company. In addition, you need a doctor’s prescription. Your doctor can prescribe functional training without it coming off their budget.

Group rehabilitation sports to improve endurance, strength, coordination, and mobility can also be prescribed for a period of 18 months and covered by the health insurance fund.