Physical Activity Counseling for Arthritis

Physical activity can help adults with arthritis reduce arthritis pain and improve overall health. Learn about physical activity counseling by primary care providers.

Physical activity is a proven, drug-free way to manage arthritis pain, yet according to a new CDC study, only 2 in 5 primary care providers regularly assess for and recommend it to their patients with arthritis. Start the conversation with your provider about how you can make physical activity part of your arthritis management plan.

Providers Who See More Arthritis Patients More Likely to Recommend Physical Activity


Physician waving to patient in virtual appointment

Physical activity can improve arthritis symptoms and overall health. Adults with arthritis can talk with their primary care providers to learn more.

A new CDC studyexternal icon examined how often primary care providers (PCPs) asked about and recommended physical activity for their patients with arthritis.

Key findings:

  • In 2018, about half (49.2%) of PCPs always assessed and nearly 3 in 5 (57.7%) always recommended physical activity to adults with arthritis. About 2 in 5 (39.7%) always both assessed and recommended physical activity.
  • PCPs who saw the most adults with arthritis (20 or more weekly average) were most likely to report always assessing and recommending physical activity.
  • Nurse practitioners had higher percentages of physical activity assessment, recommendation, and both compared to family practitioners, internists, and obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs).
  • Although many women, especially racial/ethnic minority women and those with lower income, consider their OB/GYN as their PCP, OB/GYNs had a lower percentage of assessing and recommending physical activity than other primary care providers.

Talk to Your Doctor About the Best Ways to Get Physical Activity

Based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd editionexternal icon, CDC recognizes that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. In general, if you’re doing moderate activity, you can talk but not sing during the activity.  Examples of physical activity that do not put stress on the joints include walking, dancing, swimming, and biking.

Additionally, adults with arthritis are encouraged to take part in physical activity programs and self-management education programs. These programs can help them build skills and confidence to manage their arthritis symptoms and the challenges of living with a chronic condition.

Adults with arthritis should talk to their primary care provider about ways they can include physical activity in their daily lives. Primary care providers are well-positioned to talk to their patients with arthritis about their current physical activity levels, the benefits of physical activity, and how they can get physical activity that is safe and appropriate for them. Clinical and public health organizations, like the American Medical Association, recommend health care providers assess and recommend physical activity at every visit. This counseling can help adults with arthritis manage their pain and improve their overall health.


Guglielmo D, Murphy LB, Theis KA, et al. Physical activity assessment and recommendation for adults with arthritis by primary care providers—DocStyles, 2018. [published online ahead of print, 2020 Dec 24]. Am J Health Promot. icon