Walking may benefit knee arthritis by decreasing joint stiffness and pain. Doctors may also recommend other nonsurgical and surgical treatments depending on a person’s condition.
Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints. People with the condition may experience joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. It can affect any body part. However, it often affects the knees.
There is currently no cure for knee arthritis. Conservative treatments aim to manage symptoms such as pain and inflammation. Doctors may also recommend low impact exercises and fitness programs alongside treatments.
This article looks at the benefits of walking for improving arthritis symptoms and explores walking tips and recommendations. It also looks at alternative treatments for arthritis, other benefits of walking for general health, and some frequently asked questions on the topic.
Before starting a fitness routine, it is best for a person to obtain clearance from their doctor to ensure the health and safety of their joints.
The benefits of walking for knee arthritis symptoms include the following:
- Inflammation and swelling: Walking increases blood flow to the tissues, which can help reduce knee inflammation and swelling.
- Joint stiffness and : Low impact activity helps build muscle strength and joint mobility. Muscles help support the body, and increasing their strength can help take some load off the joints.
- Recurrent knee pain: Walking may help a person maintain a moderate weight, which may relieve part of the strain the knees come under while supporting the upper body.
A medical professional, such as a physical therapist, can help create a personalized walking program depending on an individual’s physical condition.
The following guidelines may be helpful:
- Start slowly: During the first week, it is best to only walk for a short duration or distance to ensure a person does not experience pain after the walk. If pain levels are low, they can increase their walking time or distance the following week.
- Build up to 150 minutes per week: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people with knee arthritis to aim to do
150 minutesof aerobic exercise per week.
- Adjust the routine as needed: Knee arthritis pain may vary daily. People
can modifytheir physical activity program until pain improves by exercising less frequently or with less intensity. This may involve walking fewer days per week or for shorter periods each session.
- Move gently: It is important to warm up the body before beginning aerobic exercise to prevent injuries.
- Stretch every day: Stretching is good for posture and helps keep joints flexible. These exercises ensure joints move through a range of positions.
If a person plans to start a walking routine, it is best to ensure they wear the right shoes. Ideally, walking shoes will be supportive, comfortable, and not too rigid. A firm heel and thick flexible soles can help absorb the pressure exercise may cause in the joints.
A person may also consider speaking with a physical therapist for recommendations.
Treatments for arthritis aim to limit pain and inflammation to ensure joint function.
Nonsurgical arthritis treatments include:
- medications to relieve pain and inflammation
- heat and cold packs to ease swelling and pain in the joints
- physical therapy to help with flexibility and range of motion
- acupuncture to stimulate the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals
- steroid injections or oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and swelling
- disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, which may help slow down arthritis and treat immune system issues a person may experience due to this condition
- Joint replacement: This procedure involves doctors removing damaged cartilage and bone and replacing them with new metal or plastic joint surfaces to restore knee function.
- Cartilage grating: Surgeons may take cartilage from another part of the knee or from tissue to replace the damaged cartilage.
- Synovectomy: This procedure involves removing damaged joint lining to reduce pain and swelling.
- Osteotomy: This method involves the doctor cutting the shinbone or thighbone and reshaping it to relieve pressure on the knee joint.
- Arthroscopy: Surgeons use small incisions and thin instruments to diagnose and treat joint problems. However, doctors do not often use arthroscopic surgery to treat knee arthritis. In cases where a degenerative meniscal tear accompanies osteoarthritis, a doctor may recommend arthroscopic surgery to treat the torn meniscus.
Read more about arthritis management from our dedicated hub.
Walking is a low impact exercise with many benefits for arthritis symptoms and general health.
According to a
- cardiorespiratory fitness
- body composition
- muscular strength
Limited evidence suggests it may also improve this group’s flexibility, muscular endurance, and life satisfaction.
Walking briskly may also help with the following:
- building stamina
- burning excess calories
- making the heart beat faster
A doctor can further advise people on the possible health benefits of walking.
Below are answers to some common questions about walking with knee arthritis.
Indoor vs. outdoor walking
Walking may help relieve arthritis pain and can strengthen muscles. If people walk outdoors, they may also benefit from being outside, which may act as a stress reliever.
However, walking outdoors exposes a person to a higher risk of aggravating symptoms due to the uneven surfaces they will need to walk on.
Temperature changes or weather may also affect arthritis symptoms. Indoor walking may be more beneficial for people who experience changes in their symptoms due to the weather.
A person can speak with a doctor to determine their individual needs and find self-management techniques that work for them.
What is the best way to track walking?
The most popular way of tracking walking is by using a smartphone. Many tracking apps are available and free to download, such as FitBit or MapMyWalk. These can record distance, step count, and elevation. People can also use a wristband or smartwatch to track their progress.
Find out more about the best step tracker apps.
Is walking recommended during a flare of arthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, it is best for a person experiencing a flare to rest and allow their body to recover but not to stop moving entirely. To avoid stiffness, physical therapists will encourage people to move their joints through the fullest range of motion they can manage without pain.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends that people pace themselves when doing this and stop immediately if something causes more pain. A physical therapist can provide modifications to plans where necessary.
Walking is a low impact exercise that is beneficial for people with knee arthritis. This activity can ease symptoms, increase muscle strength, and help reduce joint stiffness. Walking may also help prevent and manage other physical and mental conditions.
A person may wish to consult their doctor to create a personalized plan to introduce them to exercise.