If you have psoriatic arthritis, you may worry that exercise will worsen your condition. In fact, physical activity is an essential part of caring for your health: It can improve your strength, endurance, and flexibility, and help you manage your weight.
While all forms of exercise are beneficial, gentle stretches can play a key role in relieving psoriatic arthritis symptoms. When your tendons are loose and limber, you may be less likely to experience pain and tightness, according to the patient advocacy group CreakyJoints.
Plus, “increasing your flexibility helps prevent injury,” says M. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, the vice chair of rheumatology and the director of the arthritis and musculoskeletal center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Daily stretching is an underemphasized part of psoriatic arthritis exercise.”
You’ll want to devote at least 15 minutes a day to stretching, but you should consider doing more, says Dr. Husni.
To get off on the right foot with any new stretching regimen, “you should start with a physical therapist to evaluate your physical ability and come up with a plan,” Husni says. “Once you can stretch without injuring yourself, you can make the plan part of your daily routine.”
Physical therapists are licensed by the state where they practice and work in a variety of settings, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), including hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private practices.
In addition to creating a stretching plan tailored to your individual needs, a physical therapist will teach you how to monitor and adjust your program in response to changes in your psoriatic arthritis pain level, disease activity, and response to treatment, says the ACR.
Stretches for Psoriatic Arthritis Hands and Fingers
Fingers are a common site of psoriatic arthritis pain, swelling, and stiffness,” Husni says. To stretch them:
Rest your hand on a table palm up, and bend the fingers together all the way in towards the palm.
Rest your hand on the table palm down, and, one at a time, lift each finger as high as you can.
Hold your hand out and touch each fingertip to the tip of your thumb.
Repeat five times.
Here’s a simple stretch for hands:
Rest your forearm on a table and let your hand hang down.
Clench your fingers while flexing your wrist so your fist comes up as far as possible.
Repeat 10 times.
Forearm and Elbow Stretches for Psoriatic Arthritis
To improve flexibility in your elbow and forearm, try this stretch:
Rest your palm flat on a table with your elbow close against your side.
Flip your hand from palm down to palm up, keeping your elbow still.
Repeat 10 times.
Neck Stretches for Psoriatic Arthritis
Stretch-and-hold exercises can improve flexibility in your neck. “When you do your stretches, you want to stay and hold, but not to the point where it becomes painful,” Husni says. “Stop if it hurts.”
To stretch your neck:
Sitting upright in a straight-backed chair, bend your head sideways toward your shoulder; stretch and hold for about five seconds.
Keeping your back still, turn your head to the other side as far as you can without pain, holding the stretch for five seconds.
Repeat five times.
Other Exercises for Psoriatic Arthritis
Besides stretching, people with psoriatic arthritis need aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming, or water aerobics, on most days. “You can include some stretching in your warm-up and cool-down periods,” says Husni.
Strengthening exercises are also vital, with some forms, like yoga, incorporating stretching as well. A psoriatic arthritis study published in the journal Clinical Rheumatology in 2018 found that subjects who did resistance exercises twice a week for 12 weeks saw improvements in functional capacity, disease activity, and overall quality of life.