May is Arthritis Awareness Month, which is the perfect time to learn exercises that relieve the pain of arthritis! By stretching your major joints, you can improve your range of motion, increase your strength and flexibility, and help fight fatigue to give you more energy. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and take it slow in the beginning.


Standing wall push-ups and warm-water upper body exercises can gently stretch your shoulder muscles. Avoid lifting weights above your shoulders or attempting stretches that support your weight on your hands, arms and shoulders. 

Shoulder shrugs: One of the best stretches for arthritis in your shoulders is called the shoulder shrug. Simply sit or stand straight with your arms by your side. Elevate your shoulders as high as possible and hold for several seconds before releasing. You can alternate doing one shoulder at a time or both at the same time. Repeat up to 20 times to loosen muscles.


One of the best ways to prevent arthritis back pain is to sit up straight. Good posture alleviates pressure on your joints, protecting your back from wear-and-tear. Always take special care when exercising your back, as it can be a troublesome area. Try doing side bends and hula-like movements to warm up your back before stretching.

Leaning Stretch: Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Lean forward and extend your arms backward. Breathe out and hold for three seconds and then sit back up. Repeat 5-7 times or as needed.

Arm and Leg Extenders: Lay on your stomach with a pillow underneath for back support and a towel underneath your hands to support your neck and head. Gently extend your right arm out in front of you and raise it up, while also raising your left leg. Hold for 5-6 seconds, and then alternate with the left arm and right leg. Repeat this on each side for another 3-4 reps.

Hands and Wrists

Arthritis in the hands and wrists can cause pain and stiffness. Exercising your fingers, hands, and wrists will improve joint flexibility and range of motion. Always move slowly and smoothly. Rolling your wrists can keep them limber.

Hand Extensions: Spread your fingers, stretching them wide. Try not to hyperextend your fingers, particularly your thumb. Move each finger in a circular motion in each direction. Repeat as needed.

Finger Curls: Slowly bend each finger down and touch the tip of the finger to the tip of your thumb. Repeat for each finger for 3-4 reps. Then, you can curl all four fingers down at the same time into a light fist and stretch back up. Repeat for 3-4 reps.

Arms and Elbows

When your arms and elbows are stiff and sore, exercise may seem counterintuitive. However, stretching your arms and elbows strengthens weakened joints for better range of motion.

Bicep Curls: Depending on the intensity of your arthritis, you can perform bicep curls without weights or with light dumbbells in each hand. You can even use a can of soup in place of dumbbells. You can also do this exercise sitting down or standing up. Raise your arms straight in front of you with your palms facing the ceiling. Bend at the elbow and bring the weights up toward your shoulders. Pause for 3-5 seconds and then lower the weights back down slowly.


The key to decreasing arthritis symptoms in your knees is to strengthen the muscles that support them. You want to strengthen your quadriceps, which is the large group of muscles that run down the front of your thigh.

Knee Chest Stretch: Lay your body flat on a mat on the floor. Pull the right knee toward your chest, keeping the back of your head on the floor. Release and repeat with the left knee.

Quad Stretch: Stand next to a chair, holding it with your right hand, placing all of your weight on your left foot. Hold the top of your right foot with the left hand, pulling the right heel toward your buttocks. Repeat on the other side.

Hamstring Stretch: Sit on a mat and stretch both legs out in front of you. Take a towel in both hands, placing it around the arches of both feet. Using straight arms, pull your upper body down gently towards your legs to stretch the bottom of your thighs (your hamstrings).

If you’re looking for specialized care for your joint pain or injury, look no further! The Brian Center of Durham is a full-service rehabilitation center offering state-of-the-art inpatient and outpatient therapies for patients recovering from injuries and pain, stroke, surgery or fall. These therapies take place in a warm and inviting environment with an experienced and caring staff. Therapists at our facility help patients regain strength, capability, and confidence through the following services:

  • physical therapy to regain mobility, balance, coordination
  • occupational therapy to relearn personal care skills and strengthen mobility
  • speech therapy to strengthen speech clarity, communication or language

Learn more about our outpatient therapy services and how they can help you or a loved one heal today.