osteoarthritis and physical activity

In our previous blog Physical Activity & Osteoarthritis, we discussed the benefits of physical activity in OA management, as well as some tips for participating in physical activity safely.  However, it is not always easy to just become more physically active.  There are a number of barriers, from pain to lack of motivation, that prevent us from doing physical activity on a daily basis.

What are the common barriers to physical activity in individuals with OA and what can you do to overcome some of these barriers?   


Barrier #1:

Pain, whether before, during, and/or after exercise is as good a reason as any not to exercise. It is important to remember that the appropriate exercises and activities can help decrease your pain in the long run. Similar to what we discussed in the previous post, know what you are capable of doing – and this may be different from what you used to be capable of doing in the past. Be self-aware of what causes pain and when you have pain, and make the necessary modifications. This might mean starting with non-weight bearing exercises (lying down or sitting) or exercising in water (warm is better than cold). As well, applying heat and ice appropriately can help relieve or prevent pain.

Barrier #2:

Fatigue is another common barrier to physical activity. “I’m too tired” – we’ve all said it. BUT, fatigue can actually be made worse by inactivity. Physical activity can increase energy levels and positive feelings. This is not to say that when you are feeling tired you should go for a run or do an intense workout, but getting up and going for a walk, doing some light exercises or stretching, or doing some household chores, etc., can help combat fatigue. If you are feeling fatigue during your activity, it may mean that you are doing too much and need to build up slowly.

Barrier #3:

Not having the time will always be an excuse to skip physical activity or exercise. But, saying “I don’t have time” is often associated with a lack of motivation and the fact that physical activity is not a priority. I say this because the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week. If we break this down, that is 30 minutes a day, which can be further broken down into 3×10 minute intervals of physical activity a day. This is very attainable when you think that you are awake roughly 16-18 hours a day! As well, remember that physical activity can be incorporated into your daily life. For example, walking to the mailbox, raking the lawn or mowing the grass, parking farther from the entrance, and doing household chores.

Setting goals, making a schedule, and finding meaningful reasons to exercise are all ways to help improve motivation and make physical activity and exercise a priority. Take into consideration work, family, friends, and hobbies, and schedule in physical activities in a way that promotes balance (i.e. plan a light 30 minute walk on a busy work day and a higher intensity 45 minute walk on the weekend). This can also help you avoid fatigue and burnout!

Barrier #4:

Boredom is another common barrier to exercise and physical activity, which can also make it very difficult to find the motivation to participate. This is why it is important to find activities that you like and try different activities! Exercise can be boring if you are doing it alone, so join a class or ask a friend to join you. This will help build up your social network that can provide you with the social support to make physical activity more fun. As well, you can try listening to music or watching TV during exercise. Once physical activity becomes a part of your daily routine, it will help you overcome feelings of boredom.

Barrier #5:

A lack of competence (know-how) and self-efficacy is a major barrier among those beginning an exercise program with osteoarthritis. Often times, when you are told by a physician that you need to start strengthening and stretching, there is little or no other instruction. This can make it difficult to do the appropriate exercises without increasing pain or discomfort. When this happens, you decrease your self-efficacy or belief in your ability to exercise without pain, so you stop exercising all together. One way to overcome this barrier, is to seek help from a professional such as a physiotherapist or personal trainer with experience in osteoarthritis management.

Barrier #6:

Cost and accessibility can make being active very difficult. Not everyone can or wants to spend their money on a gym membership or a sports membership. Furthermore, not everyone has access to a gym or sports team. There are many other options to increase activity such as going for a walk outside or at the mall, or involving family members and friends in sports games. If you can’t afford weights, you can use household items such as canned goods, water bottles, textbooks, or resistance bands. There are a number of alternative, inexpensive solutions.


There are many ways to overcome the barriers of physical activity to reap the benefits. It is not always easy, but with perseverance and hard work, it is possible.



Meaghan Kadowaki
Certified Orthopeic Bracing Specialist
Arthritis & Injury Care Centre

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