Gaining muscle/lifting weights with arthritic issues?

Hello wonderful MFPers.

I've been using this site for almost six months and I am nearing my halfway goal (Yay!) It's been a fantastic resource, there is an active community of people with health issues who work diligently to get their bodies in the best shape they. It's incredibly motivating and helpful when I'm having rough days/weeks of my own.

A little backstory: I have Fibromyalgia, which causes me to have very painful flare ups, limits some of my mobility, and was one of the factors in my weight gain. As I've lost weight my endurance has grown significantly, but I'm struggling with gaining muscle. Or rather, gaining more muscle. I can see some definition in areas but it's no where near where I want it and I'm concerned that as my weight continues to drop so will my muscle mass.

However, with my pain issues I'm struggling. I've had to cut back on my gym routine since mid/late December due to pain/flare ups and moving, but even when I was actively working out weight lifting was a huge hurdle for me. I prefer dumbells as they force me to focus on having good form better than machines do and also allow me to use very low weights if needed. But even so, I am/was lucky if I could get through a set using 10lbs weights. My joints would fight back and I'd end up having pain in my joints sever enough that I had to lie down for extended periods. I tried using lower weights instead, but my muscles didn't feel "pushed" at all and I would longer sets in an effort to really work the muscle group I was focusing on. Which would inadvertently cause my joints hurt anyways, even though my muscle would barely feel fatigued.

I want to build up my strength. I know if my body is stronger a lot of my issues will (over time) become easier. But I don't know how to do it. Should I just use machines and set them to their lowest settings and hope for the best? Use my 2 and 5lbs dumbbells to get at least some form of strength training? Are there exercises for people with joint problems that will help to build muscle without causing significant pain? I feel like there must be *something* somewhere, but the best I can find is yoga, which isn't really what I'm wanting (my balance is crap and falling whilst trying to hold a pose will do more harm than good).

Any advice? Anyone been in my shoes before and succeeded?

Replies

  • AJ_G
    AJ_G Posts: 4,158 Member
    As far as building muscle and strength, generally lifting lighter weights for higher reps will not get you there. Muscles need to be pushed to the point of damage inorder to repair themselves and become stronger and bigger. In order to do this you need to use weights heavy enough so that you can do about 12 or less reps with them before you fail to acheive the desired result. With your situation, I don't have any real advice to offer because I don't really see any way for you to lift heavy enough weights without hurting yourself. I will tell you that lifting light weights for a high number of repititions will not get you the results your hoping for. I wish I could be more help. Good luck
  • needlerknits
    needlerknits Posts: 20 Member
    I have no answers for you other than what you've been trying. Push a little and try to balance that with rest so as to minimize the flareups. I know my PT had to get creative to devise shoulder rehab exercises after my second shoulder surgery that I could do with my joint inflammation issues in my fingers/hands/wrists/elbows. I didn't have these issues with my first shoulder surgery :/ Some days is good, some days ain't. You probably already know that paying attention to adequate protein and trying to avoid inflammatory foods will help.
  • cafeaulait7
    cafeaulait7 Posts: 2,459 Member
    My big pain problem isn't a joint issue (unless you count the spine); it's from neuropathy and flare-ups come in certain back/neck muscles, so we may be very different. What I do is lift heavy with few reps, and for those lifts I spread that out to about 5-6 days in between. The low reps help mine so much, because mine is more aggravated by repetition. I completely avoid certain (most) lifts for my bad muscles, too, because they just don't work for me pain-wise. So it took a lot of trial and error :(

    Otherwise for those spots, I do mobility stuff and stretching on the other days working upper body.

    For my lower body it's not nearly as difficult, so I lift much more often for that. And I do isolation lifts for upper body that don't use my bad muscles. But with joints doing it to you, that sounds harder! If you do find that certain joints can be worked more than others, look into isolated lifts, imho. I can still do upper body lifting that I couldn't do often if I only used compound lifts. Parts of me need much more rest than others, basically. Good luck!
  • acogg
    acogg Posts: 1,871 Member
    I don't have arthritis but I am older and had some joint pain when I was heavier. I started out using exercise bands because the bands would aid in the return move. Very easy on the joints and you can up repetitions as you go. I also want to tell you that your are on the right path with weight training. As you gain muscle and strength, you will not have to rely on your joints as much. You will start moving with your muscles. I have found that my best results were from slow, steady lifts and my worst were from fast, jerking movements. So glad that you are finding a good path!
  • Sunbrooke
    Sunbrooke Posts: 632 Member
    You don't HAVE to lift any weights to be healthy and have a strong body. People get faster results with weights and there are many benefits for people who can do it, but it is not a requirement. I didn't lift a single weight in the army and I was strong and healthy. I struggled to carry 30 lbs for very long, but there was nothing wrong with my healthy, weight, or body shape. I would suggest focusing on exercises you can do without weights until you can talk to your doctor. With increased weight, there is an increased chance for injury of you do something wrong. I have arthritis in both of my knees and it is also my experience that diet can play a role in the inflammation.
  • What I do is lift heavy with few reps, and for those lifts I spread that out to about 5-6 days in between. The low reps help mine so much, because mine is more aggravated by repetition. I completely avoid certain (most) lifts for my bad muscles, too, because they just don't work for me pain-wise. So it took a lot of trial and error :(

    Otherwise for those spots, I do mobility stuff and stretching on the other days working upper body.

    I do isolation lifts for upper body that don't use my bad muscles. But with joints doing it to you, that sounds harder! If you do find that certain joints can be worked more than others, look into isolated lifts, imho. I can still do upper body lifting that I couldn't do often if I only used compound lifts. Parts of me need much more rest than others, basically. Good luck!

    That does actually sound helpful :) I have nerve pain as well, but I've become far more aware over the years how to manage it appropriately so it's not been as troublesome. Still there, just easier to work around than my joints when they act up.

    I'll try doing heavier lifting but spread further apart and work on figuring out exactly what exercises are causing the most pain and augment my work out accordingly. I may not get all the muscle groups I want, but it will be better than nothing, which is kinda where I'm at now.

    Most if my joint issues are focused in my upper body. So I can work on my squats, lunges, etc and build up strength there while I figure things out up top. My hips can be a nuisance, but it's mild by comparison so it seems the best place for me to start. Thanks!
    I don't have arthritis but I am older and had some joint pain when I was heavier. I started out using exercise bands because the bands would aid in the return move. Very easy on the joints and you can up repetitions as you go. I also want to tell you that your are on the right path with weight training. As you gain muscle and strength, you will not have to rely on your joints as much.

    I do have some bands lying around so that could be worth a shot. Thanks!!
  • As far as building muscle and strength, generally lifting lighter weights for higher reps will not get you there. Muscles need to be pushed to the point of damage inorder to repair themselves and become stronger and bigger. In order to do this you need to use weights heavy enough so that you can do about 12 or less reps with them before you fail to acheive the desired result. With your situation, I don't have any real advice to offer because I don't really see any way for you to lift heavy enough weights without hurting yourself. I will tell you that lifting light weights for a high number of repititions will not get you the results your hoping for. I wish I could be more help. Good luck

    That's what I figured. Several other commenters that have given me some ideas as to what I might be able to do. It might not be as much as I'd like, but it's far better than what I'm doing now. :)
  • maj1958
    maj1958 Posts: 16 Member
    Try reformer Pilates. You can obtain nice muscle definition as well as improve balance and flexibility. There are many modifications available that can allow you to get a good workout even on a bad day.
  • Try reformer Pilates. You can obtain nice muscle definition as well as improve balance and flexibility. There are many modifications available that can allow you to get a good workout even on a bad day.

    I'll look into that, thanks!!