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www.arthritisvic.org.au  ... (Copy reviewed 2005)

Warm Water Exercise Helps Beat Arthritis

Why Warm Water Exercise?

Everyone knows stiff and painful joints hurt when they move. However, regular exercise is important in the long-term management of arthritis. It helps to improve flexibility in your joints, the strength of your muscles and gives a boost to your general health and fitness. Exercise in warm water is easy and enjoyable because your joints can move more freely than on land.

  • Warm water helps relieve pain and stiffness;
  • Buoyancy supports all your body and lessens the strain on your joints.
  • Water resistance enables you to gradually build up flexibility, strength and stamina, no matter what your current level of fitness.
  • Aquatic activities can be enjoyed by people of all ages and degrees of fitness and are an ideal form of recreation for the whole family.

Many people with arthritis are discovering the benefits of regular exercise in the warm water of pools and spas, combining immediate relaxation and pain relief with long lasting improvements in joint function and muscle strength. Exercise becomes a real pleasure in warm water.

What is Warm Water Exercise?

A warm water exercise program is much more than just going for a swim. Swimming regularly is an excellent way of building up heart/lung fitness without putting too much strain on your joints. But for a complete workout you need to do a range of exercises which move all your joints and work all your muscles. You can easily do this in a warm water pool or spa.

How can you exercise in Warm Water?

1. Warm Water Exercise Classes

You con enjoy the fun and stimulation of exercise with others in a class that suits your capabilities and level of fitness. If you have any concerns about joining a Warm Water Exercise Class, you can always visit the venue and observe a class beforehand.

Aquarobic classes are vigorous, general classes aimed at improving fitness in people who are reasonably fit and active. Many recreation and fitness centres conduct them.

Gentle Aquarobic classes work on general fitness and are suitable for those who, because of age or lack of fitness, want a less strenuous form of exercise. They are run in many recreation and fitness centres.

Gentle Water Exercise classes are slower paced for people who, because of disability, medical condition (such as arthritis) or age, are very unfit or have reduced physical abilities. They may be conducted in specially heated warm water pools as well as recreation centres.

Hydrotherapy is specialised exercise therapy given to an individual or small group by a physiotherapist in specially heated warm water pools.

Arthritis Victoria Warm Water Exercise Program: classes are offered at 14 locations, led by trained and supported volunteer leaders. For further details, go to the AV Warm Water Exercise Program page

2. Water Exercises by Yourself

You can do your own water exercises in a warm water pool at home or in recreation centres, fitness clubs, swimming schools, retirement villages and some institutions. Consider the following points when doing your own program.

  • Public pools generally cater for users engaged in quite energetic activities They are usually kept at a temperature of 28º -30ºC and you may need to move more vigorously to keep warm.
  • Choose a time when the pool is fairly quiet so you can move safely and confidently around the pool area and you are not likely to be knocked by enthusiastic swimmers and others enjoying more boisterous water activities.
  • Check the ease and safety of access into the centre, around the dressing area and into the pool.
  • A spa at home or in a pool complex enables you to do some gentle exercises or have a relaxing soak in very warm water (up to 40ºC). For your own safety don't stay in a hot spa for more than 20 minutes.

Before You Start

Warm water exercise, either by yourself or in a class, may be a new experience for you. If you are not accustomed to regular exercise or have concerns about your health make sure it is safe for you to start an exercise program.

  • Consult your doctor about any medical conditions you have which may limit your exercise capabilities or any movements you should take care with because of your arthritis.
  • Don't use a pool or spa by yourself if you are not confident in the water or have difficulty getting in or out

How to Exercise in Warm Water

When you get into the warm water you immediately feel better. Weight is taken off the joints and the warmth of the water soothes your pain. Whether you are exercising at home or in a community pool, participating in a class or doing your own exercises, you will get the most benefit from your exercise session and ensure your safety and well-being by following these guidelines.

  • Begin your exercise program with short sessions and gradually build up. In a pool commence with about 20-30 minutes; in a hot spa no more than 5-7 minutes.
  • Come out of the water immediately if you feel light-headed, dizzy, drowsy, extremely fatigued or nauseous. These reactions are possible if you spend too long in very warm water. Have a drink and lie down for a while.
  • Stop doing an exercise which causes severe pain or discomfort. Consult your doctor or physiotherapist if your joint symptoms increase markedly after a water exercise session,
  • Ease up if you experience mild-moderate joint or muscle pain for more than a few hours after your exercise session. You have not done any damage, just overdone it. Some increased pain is normal. Cut down next time but don't stop exercising,
  • Have a drink after a water exercise session to replace lost body fluid.
  • Rest afterwards if you feel tired. Exercising in warm water can be quite draining.

Simple Warm Water Exercises

These exercises work all the major parts of the body and provide a good general workout. You can do them in a pool or spa.

  • Begin and end your exercise session with some easy, general movements, such as walking though the water or a gentle swim. This warms up your joint and muscles and relaxes them afterwards.
  • Start with 3-5 repetitions and gradually build up to about 8-10.
  • Do your exercises slowly and smoothly, working through as full a range of movement as possible.
  • Increase your effort by speeding up the movement but only so if you feel comfortable working more strongly.
  • Keep the part of the body being exercised under the water. Sit, kneel or squat with feet apart,
  • making sure you feel stable and comfortable.
  • Consult your doctor or a physiotherapist if you are uncertain about the suitability of any of the exercises.
  • Always work in your own comfort zone.


Keep shoulders under the water.
Turn head to one side, bend chin to shoulder and lift.
Return to centre, bend chin to chest and lift to upright.
Repeat to the other side.

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Keep shoulders under the water.
Roll shoulders backwards going up, back, down and forward.
Place fingertips on shoulders and circle elbows backwards.

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Keep shoulders under the water and stretch arms out in front.
Slide arms out to the side and in again, with palms facing down.
For a stronger exercise, speed up the movement and push through the water with your palms.
Keep shoulders under the water.
Push out with hands in all directions with fingers stretches.

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Keep hands under the water.
Close fingers and thumb into a fist, then stretch fingers out and apart.
Repeat, closing fingers over thumb.
Stand with feet apart and knees bent OR sit/kneel with knees apart.
Twist from the waist to each side.

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Stand holding edge of pool OR sit with thighs supported.
Lift alternate legs out sideways.
Hold edge of pool or spa and let both legs float up OR stand on one leg holding side.
Move legs as though riding a bicycle.

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9.  LEGS
Stand with feet well apart.
Bend alternate knees and lunge from side to side keeping both feet flat and knees pressed outwards.
Lift foot with knee bent.
Bend ankle up and down.
Rotate foot from the ankle
Improve your general fitness by walking through the water or swimming for 10-20 minutes.

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