Does Exercising Cause Arthritis? Fitness & Nutrition Expert Clears The Air

Arthritis is a painful condition that has many connotations with (over) exercising and straining the joints. We find out if this is true and what the real causes could be.

The most basic definition of arthritis is inflammation of the joints, and there are many types of arthritis affecting different parts of the body namely the hands, knees, wrists, ankles, shoulders and elbows. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and they can cause enough pain and discomfort to stop you from exercising and carrying out your daily routine due to the damage they cause to cartilage and bone.

Arthritis is often associated as being a condition suffered in old age, but the truth is rheumatoid arthritis is commonly diagnosed in people aged 30-50. Osteoarthritis in some form is prevalent in those over 60, but again, there are many who suffer in their 20s due to different reasons including joint injury.

We spoke to Nick Hedayatpour, an experienced strength and nutrition coach, about the connection between exercising and arthritis and if getting fit could ease the symptoms. Not only did he explain how proper training is imperative to avoid straining the joints but also revealed some interesting facts about the link between food intolerances and what kind of bacteria we have in our bodies to inflammation.

Improper exercise technique

Addressing the topic and exercise first, Nick emphasises that when done correctly, exercising should not contribute to the risk of developing arthritis. He also emphasises the importance of training specific muscle groups to prevent joint pain from developing.

“In my experience of training international professional athletes and people who want to get fit, about 90% of them have had some sort of joint pain before I began coaching them. Training incorrectly can certainly cause joint pain. For example, it’s common for me to see someone who’s been diagnosed with knee arthritis (misdiagnosis is common), and in fact they have weak hamstring-to-quadriceps strength ratio. This muscle group seems to be a weak area even for athletes.

It’s crucial to build a solid foundation based on a structural balance assessment where strength ratios of different muscle groups, mobility and flexibility are assessed and weaknesses addressed. This should be done to prevent joint related issues in the long run.”

Type of bacteria


While it may seem obvious to draw the connection between physical exercise and arthritis directly, Nick surprisingly reveals that to fully understand the root cause of arthritis, one must take a more holistic approach and look at significant contributing factors, namely diet and gut health.

“One of the most effective ways to prevent cartilage damage is to see what type of bacteria is present in your body. It may surprise you to know that joint health and the type of bacteria present are linked. We’ve always known this but recent research has clearly shown this connection. To find out, take the Oral DNA test, which is a functional medicine (uncovers the cause of a condition) test to determine if you have certain bacteria like lactobacillus rhamnosus that may be causing cartilage erosion. For lower extremities like hips and knees, bacteria in the intestines need to be assessed with an organic acids test or comprehensive digestive and stool analysis.”

Food intolerances

Food intolerances are the cause of many illnesses including IBS and Coeliac disease; so it should come as no surprise that joint inflammation could also be a symptom of an intolerance. Nick’s advice is to get a food intolerance test and go on an elimination diet to get to the root of the problem.

“Food intolerances cause inflammation and specific types affect specific areas depending on the individual, e.g. joints for some, thyroid for others. Food intolerances are not an immediate threat to the body; however, after years of consuming problematic foods, systemic inflammation leads to problems with joints and digestion.

Take a food intolerance test at a reputable lab and begin an elimination diet. The results may surprise you. There are people who are even intolerant to healthy food like avocado, almonds and dark leafy vegetables. Stay on the elimination diet for six months, do another test and see what your true intolerances are and remove them completely from your diet. I am intolerant to wheat and gluten, so when I used to eat bread, I could barely bend my fingers!

Since systemic inflammation affects and is affected by chronic issues such as obesity, asthma, Alzheimer’s and arthritis, it’s important to get tested for inflammation markers by a functional medicine practitioner. My suggestion is the hs-CRP (highly sensitive cross-reactive proteins). Depending on the results, I provide my clients with the appropriate nutrition advice to manage the inflammation.

One supplement I advocate is fish oil and all my clients are currently taking it. The benefits include improved cognitive function, fat-loss (lipolytic genes on, lipogenic genes off) and reducing inflammation. Since someone with arthritis may be at a greater risk of having chronic systemic inflammation, the fish oil consumed should have a higher EPA content than DHA – both omega-3 fatty acids. For cognitive benefits, DHA levels should be higher.”

In conclusion – people who train properly are NOT at risk of developing arthritis, and are actually at far less risk than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Gut health and food intolerances may be the surprising causes of joint pain and inflammation, so get yourself checked out before making the assumption that exercising will lead to arthritis.

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