Skip to content

Osteoarthritis Health Center

Font Size

Walking to Ease Knee Pain

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature

It's a catch-22 when you have knee pain from osteoarthritis. It hurts, so you don't want to move. But if you exercise, it can eventually make your knees feel better.

"I've gone a period of time when I haven’t moved a joint much and, when I first start, it's a little bit sore," says Denver physical therapist Eric Robertson, who has osteoarthritis. Robertson knows what it's like to be achy when he first starts moving. Your knee may hurt and ache, but it shouldn't keep you from doing your usual activities, he says.

Recommended Related to Osteoarthritis

An Exercise Fix for Knee Osteoarthritis

Jerry Wade used to love bird-watching with his wife, an avid birder. "I'm not a birder myself, but I like being active and getting out there with her," he says. "Bird-watching puts you into natural areas and some rough terrain -- it's not an easy physical activity." But in the fall of 2005, the 66-year-old Columbia, Mo., resident, who had retired in 2000 from a career in community development, started noticing "pains and twinges" in his knees. A visit to his doctor in January 2006 brought the diagnosis:...

Read the An Exercise Fix for Knee Osteoarthritis article > >

If you have OA, you may be a little uncomfortable when you first begin moving, because there's some inflammation in your knee, says Jemima Albayda, MD. She's a rheumatologist at Johns Hopkins University. "But when you start walking, it should feel better."

There are many ways that walking helps ease the pain of knee OA.

Rebuilds joints. When you have OA, cartilage -- the springy tissue in your joints that acts like a shock absorber for your knees -- can become damaged and worn. The result: pain, stiffness, and problems moving. Exercise can help rebuild the joint, says Robertson. "Cartilage is like a sponge, and it gets nutrients from the compression and decompression of your body weight as you walk." 

Strengthens your legs. Walking builds your muscles so they can take the pressure off your joints and handle more of the weight themselves. That means less pain for your knees.

Helps you lose weight. For every pound you lose, there's four times less pressure and stress on your knees. When there's less pressure, there’s less pain. That can make a big difference to painful joints. Walking is a great low-impact way to help you lose extra weight, Albayda says.

Listen to Your Body

To stay healthy, you should get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. You don't have to get it all at once -- 10 minutes of walking here and there is a great idea. But don't push yourself, says Albayda.

"Some people get so excited that they overdo it and get sore the next day. I always say try a little bit one day, and see how you do."

Some warning signs that you should stop:

  • Sudden increase in swelling
  • Pain so severe you can’t stand on one leg
  • Feeling unstable, like you might fall down
  • Aches and pains, higher than a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 10

Today on WebMD

elderly hands
Even with arthritis pain.
woman exercising
Here are 7 easy tips.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
Keep Joints Healthy
Chronic Pain Healthcheck
close up of man with gut
man knee support
woman with cold compress
Man doing tai chi
hand gripping green rubber ball
person walking with assistance