Arthritis is a group of conditions that cause pain and swelling in the joints. It is common in the small joints of the foot and ankle. Walking may help relieve pain and improve joint mobility in people with arthritis.

People of all ages can have arthritis, but it becomes more common as people age. Being physically active may be beneficial for people of all ages to reduce some symptoms associated with arthritis.

Walking is a gentle, low impact exercise that is good for overall physical health and mental well-being. Following a walking program can also help reduce the risk of other chronic conditions, such as heart disease.

This article looks at the benefits of walking for people with arthritis in the feet and ankles and shares tips on how to start a walking program.

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Arthritis causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. It commonly affects the small joints of the feet and ankles.

There are different types of arthritis, but the primary types affecting the foot and ankle are:

  • Osteoarthritis: In osteoarthritis, the cartilage cushioning the ends of bones breaks down, causing the bones to rub against each other. Cartilage is a connective tissue that surrounds bones and joints that plays a role in protecting these structures. Its breakdown can lead to symptoms.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the joints. The inflammation can damage the cartilage and bone in the joint over time.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: Post-traumatic arthritis is a type of osteoarthritis that can develop after an injury to the foot or ankle, such as a fracture.

Arthritis of the foot can make it difficult to walk and do other activities. It can also affect a person’s quality of life.

Yes, walking is a good form of exercise for people with arthritis in the feet. Walking is low impact and puts minimal stress on the joints. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, which means it helps strengthen the bones.

Walking can help improve pain and joint stiffness as well as increase the range of motion and mobility in the joints.

Walking has many benefits for overall health, even beyond the relief of arthritis symptoms.

Walking is a great way to:

  • improve heart health
  • manage weight
  • boost mood
  • reduce stress
  • improve balance and coordination
  • improve circulation
  • lengthen life span
  • ease sleeping issues

It is recommended for a person with arthritis to check with their doctor or physical therapist before starting a walking plan. They can start at a low intensity and increase it gradually. If a person tries to do too much too soon, it can lead to injuries or make the pain worse.

A person can consider the FIT formula and increase only one factor at a time:

  • Frequency: If a person cannot manage a daily walk, they should aim for a walk three to five times per week. Even walking for only 5 minutes provides benefits.
  • Intensity: Aim for a speed of 2–3 miles per hour. A person can build up to this. They can increase their heart rate but still be able to hold a conversation as they walk.
  • Time: Half an hour or an hour a day is ideal. However, even starting with 5-minute walks several times daily helps build strong bones and muscles and eases pain.

If a person has arthritis in the feet, there are a few things to consider before starting a walking program:

  • Choose the right shoes: Look for shoes with good arch support and cushioning to help protect the feet. Avoid high-heeled shoes that put extra stress on the joints.
  • Warm-up: Start with a slow walk to warm up the muscles and joints before picking up the pace.
  • Stretch: Finish the walk with some gentle stretching exercises for the calves, hamstrings, and thighs.
  • Use a heating pad: This can help reduce muscle soreness and pain after exercise. A warm shower or bath can have a similar effect.
  • Stay hydrated: This can help someone cool down, especially if they are going on longer walks.

People may want to consider starting a walking group or joining an existing one. For example, the Walk with Ease (WWE) group brings people with arthritis and other chronic diseases together to learn more about their condition and take walks.

Besides walking, many exercises can help relieve pain and improve foot function in people with arthritis. These can include:

  • Standing heel raise: A person uses a chair for support. They then stand with their weight on the balls of their feet, raising their ankles. Repeat 10 times.
  • Toe spread: With feet resting on the floor, spread the toes wide. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
  • Ankle range of motion: Bend the ankle up toward the body as far as possible, then point the toes away. Repeat 10 times.
  • Calf stretch: Place hands on a wall and step one foot back. Lean forward into the front leg while keeping the back leg’s heel down. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times.

If a person experiences persistent pain or swelling in their feet, they should talk with a doctor. A doctor can diagnose the type of arthritis and develop a treatment plan.

Healthcare professionals may also recommend other forms of low impact exercises for someone with arthritis, such as:

Walking is a great exercise for people with arthritis in the feet. It is low impact and can help improve pain and joint stiffness. A person should start a walking program slowly and increase the intensity gradually.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of arthritis in the feet can talk with a doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor can recommend treatment and exercises to help ease symptoms and improve mobility.