I have arthritis, can I still dance?

When you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, even getting out of bed in the morning can be a struggle. Whether you suffer from pain and discomfort in your knees, hands or hips, the crippling feeling can be overwhelming. But staying active is important to keeping rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups at bay.

“Dancing is a mind/body activity because you have to be engaged in what you’re doing … . There are a lot of benefits to staying active in an engaging mind/body way, especially for people with arthritis,” said Steffany Moonaz, PhD, and founder of Yoga for Arthritis.

It’s important to always consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, but for arthritis sufferers, dancing can be a great way to stay in shape and overcome some of the chronic pain.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind before taking your first dance class:

Be sure to find a qualified dance instructor, and speak to them before class about your ailments.
It’s important to find an instructor who has the knowledge and experience to teach everyone, regardless of skill, age or ability. Tell your instructor about any physical issues you may have, so they can modify moves to fit your comfort level.

Every dance move can be adjusted to fit your abilities. If something hurts, speak up, and try an alternative.
If you suffer from knee or lower back pain, ask your instructor for a better move that’s more in line with your restrictions. Or you can concentrate on a few steps that don’t cause you discomfort. If your back is in pain, concentrate on moves that focus on your abs. If your knees hurt, you can always march in place to the rhythm.

Whenever possible, try to avoid repetitive movements.
If a part of your body hurts, the worst thing you can do is aggravate it. Even if you feel fine, repetitive movements can add unnecessary strain to your joints. Rather than target a specific part of your body, concentrate on moving your entire body.

Never try to keep pace with others in your class. If they’re going too fast, slow down.
Dancing is based on rhythm and timing, both of which can be sped up or slowed down. Never add stress to your mind or body by trying to dance at the same pace as those around you. Try the same dance in half-time. And if you’re embarrassed, bring a friend to class and pick a spot in the back.

You can always change up the moves, but never stop dancing.
If at some point during the class, the discomfort becomes too much, give that part of your body a rest. If your hands or wrists begin to feel pain, let them relax and just move your legs. If your knees or back start to ache, you can always clap in place. This is your dance class too, so have fun.