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Arthritis Exercises for Shooters

Tips to Keep You on the Range

The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan. RECOIL and its contributors are not responsible for any harm or injuries sustained while attempting these techniques.

That pain with every shot, or even just racking the slide, is all too common to arthritis sufferers. Soreness and swelling can be a real nuisance for the avid shooter. The recoil and gripping involved in each shot can make a day of shooting something you’ll be feeling for some time afterward. Let’s talk about some modifications you can make that’ll go a long way to help ease some of the pain.

Forms of Arthritis
First of all, let’s discuss what arthritis is. It comes in two different forms: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis results from wear and tear to the joints. Over time, the joint cartilage breaks down, causing inflammation, irritation, and stiffness. You’ll experience stiffness after periods of inactivity such as sleeping or sitting, tenderness when you press on the
affected area, pain during or after movement, and crunching when the joint is used. It commonly affects the knees, hips, fingers, hands, and spine. There are several risk factors for osteoarthritis including age, gender, injuries, heredity, and obesity.

Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis because it’s an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks the joints resulting in similar symptoms of inflammation, pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling. While pain in the joints is common to both types, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are a little different. Sufferers experience red and swollen joints, symmetrical inflammation on both sides of the body, fatigue, or fever. The areas typically affected include fingers, hands, hips, knees, neck, shoulders, and feet. You’re more at risk for this type of arthritis based on genetics and environmental factors such as smoking, diet, medical interventions, and infections.

Luckily there are some modifications you can make to ease some of the pain.

Modifications for Shooting
It should come as no surprise that a condition that causes pain and inflammation to your joints could make shooting uncomfortable. Arthritis in your hands can reduce range of motion in your fingers. This can make a firm grip challenging and pulling the trigger very difficult at times.

There are some things you can do to make to make shooting a little more joint friendly. First, consider the gun you’re using — does it fit your hand well? Spend the time to try a lot of different options; you might find that a particular handgun fits your hand really well. There are also a number of pistols that allow you to change the backstrap or frame to better fit your hand. Also, soft rubber grips can both reduce some felt recoil and make the gun easier to hold.

Next, consider a smaller caliber to reduce some of the punch that firing a larger round can deliver. Opting for a 9mm or even a .22 can make a day at the range more enjoyable.

A comfortable pair of shooting gloves with padded palms can make a big difference as well. The padding helps lessen the blow of the recoil, and a tighter fitting glove can help to support the hands and control swelling. However, there’s a tradeoff with feel and dexterity when you wear gloves. Cutting the thumb and trigger finger off at the second knuckle can help. Note that if the size of your hands already make your gun a handful, gloves will exacerbate the problem — selecting one with a slimmer grip will help.

If arthritis is present in your hands, consider a handgun with single action mode (either single-action only or double/single-action if you can handle the initial DA pull) for an easier pull. A gun with a lighter, shorter trigger can also help. Some firearms offer optional short trigger configurations, which can be good for those who have trouble with long trigger pulls. Gunsmiths can also modify your trigger and gun to better suit your needs.

Pain Reduction Through Nutrition
Since the environment can play a role in arthritis, nutrition is an effective way to reduce symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of mainly fruits, vegetables, and grass-fed or organic meats has been shown to reduce inflammation. Specifically, foods containing higher sulfur amounts can be beneficial for reducing arthritis pain. These foods include eggs, onions, garlic, fish, poultry, and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, kale, brussels sprouts, and cabbage.

Avoid foods high in sugar, starchy carbohydrates, grains, and dairy. These foods can increase inflammation, which may make the pain or swelling worse.

Omega-3 fatty acids also show some promise with reducing arthritis-related symptoms. Supplementation can help reduce joint pain, which may reduce the amount of anti-inflammatory drugs needed. While you can take an Omega-3 supplement, you can also find it in grass-fed beef, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Ease Pain With Exercise
Staying active can be a great way to manage arthritis. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when your joints are sore, but it can be very beneficial. If you’re new to exercise, two to three days per week for at least 30 minutes is a good place to start. Over time, build up to five days per week.

When starting a resistance-training program, start with higher repetition exercises. Over time, lower the reps and increase the weight as you progress. Twelve repetitions is a good starting point. Closed-chain exercises, where the hand or foot is fixed, are ideal. The push-up is such an exercise and is a better choice compared to an open-chain exercise like a bench press. Closed-chain exercises are generally better to start with because they create more stability at the joint by requiring contraction of more surrounding muscles.

Goblet Squat


> Begin with a kettlebell or dumbbell held against your chest.
> Stand with your feet just outside shoulder width and your toes slightly out.
> Sit down between your knees, keeping them slightly out and in line with your feet.
> Exhale and drive your feet through the floor to return to the starting position.
> Complete three sets of 12 repetitions.



> Begin face down on your elbows.
> Prop yourself up on your elbows and toes, while reaching your elbows through the floor.
> Squeeze your butt and get tight across your whole body.
> Be careful not to let your hips drop or your back arch.
> Complete three sets of 30 to 45 seconds.



> Firmly grip the floor and keep your elbows straight, but not locked.
> Slowly lower yourself to the floor with your elbows at about a 45-degree angle to your body.
> Keep your chin back and your hips in-line with your shoulders and ankles.
> Exhale and press back to the starting position.
> Once the elbows straighten, push a little further through your shoulder blades.
> Complete three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Barbell Inverted Row


> Begin under a barbell that is safely fixed to a rack or machine.
> Grip the bar firmly, and lift your hips off the floor. Your body should be in a straight line.
> Drive your shoulder blades together as you pull yourself toward the bar. Be careful not to let your elbows travel past your body.
> Slowly return to the starting position by gently letting your shoulder blades come slightly forward.
> Complete three sets of 12 repetitions.



> Start with hand in a neutral position with your fingers straight and close together.
> Bring your thumb and index finger toward each other until they touch, loosely forming the letter “O.”
> Repeat the same movement with your middle, ring, and small finger.
> Then, reverse the order and move back up to your index finger.
> Repeat five times on each hand for three total sets.

Wrist Flexion and Extension


> Reach your arm straight out in front of you with fingers together and palm down.
> Bend your wrist down towards the floor, and use your other hand to gently press down. You should feel a stretch in the top of your forearm.
> Next, bring your fingers toward the ceiling and gently pull your fingers back with your other hand. You should feel a stretch on the bottom of your forearm.
> Repeat this for three sets of 10 repetitions.

These suggestions can bring some of the joy back to shooting for those of you with arthritis. It requires a bit more effort to find the right combination of modifications, supplements, and exercise that work for you, but you’ll be happy you did.

About the Author
Ryne Gioviano is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design located in Aurora, Illinois. He earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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