How Walking Can Help Ease Knee Osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis can be very painful, especially when you move. The last thing you may want to do is go for a walk. But it’s actually a great way to ease your pain.

Walking helps ease knee pain and disability from osteoarthritis (OA). You may worry that a walk will put extra pressure on your joints and make the pain worse. But it has the opposite effect. Walking sends more blood and nutrients to your knee joints. This helps them feel better.

Walking can also:

  • Make your bones and muscles stronger
  • Burn calories to help you lose weight
  • Help you sleep better
  • Boost your energy
  • Help your balance to prevent falls
  • Ease stress and anxiety
  • Protect your cartilage
  • Boost your heart health

Still not convinced? Here’s another reason: If you avoid activity, your knee OA pain will only get worse.

How to Get Started

First, check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start walking.

Then, follow these steps:

  • Pick the right route. You can walk around your neighborhood sidewalks, local park, school track, or mall. Pick a route that’s well-lit, quiet, clear, and doesn’t have too much traffic. Smooth surfaces may be safer than off-road trails if you’re new to exercise.
  • Be safe. Let your family or friends know when and where you plan to walk. If you walk outdoors or in a public place, bring your ID, a credit card or a little cash, and phone with you.
  • Slip on comfortable shoes, socks, and clothing. Walking shoes should be flexible but support your feet. If you shop for shoes, go in the afternoon or evening, because your feet expand a bit later in the day.
  • If you walk outdoors, wear light- or bright-colored clothes or a reflective vest so drivers can easily see you. Wear layers so you can take off an extra shirt if you get too warm, which can happen even on cool days.
  • Find a walk buddy. Walk with your spouse or partner, kids, neighbors, friends, or dog. If you make a walk date with a buddy, you’re more likely to stick with it.

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Set a Goal

Try to walk 30 to 60 minutes every day. If you don’t walk or do any exercise at all right now, that may seem like a lot! It’s OK to start with small goals.

Plan to walk 5 minutes a day for a few days each week. Every time you walk, try to go a little longer or farther. Even short walks will help your bones and muscles.

Count Steps, Not Minutes

Measure your walks in steps instead of time. Set a goal to walk 6,000 steps or more each day. If you’re not there now, walk a little more each time to work up to 6,000 steps.

Pedometers can track your steps so you don’t have to count them.

Check Your Heart Rate

How do you know if you’re walking fast enough to get the health benefits? Do a quick heart rate check.

When you’re in the middle of a brisk walk, your heart rate should be between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate, which is 220 minus your age.

Wearable trackers check your heart rate for you. You can do this on your own, too:

  • Press two fingertips on the artery on the inside of the other wrist.
  • Count the pulse beats for 30 seconds.
  • Double it to get your heart rate.

Prevent Injuries or Worse Damage

Do light stretches for about 5 to 10 minutes to warm up before you walk. Or just walk slowly for 5 minutes, then work your way up to a brisk pace. At the end of your walk, slow down your pace for 5 minutes to cool down.

Try these tips to avoid trips and slips:

  • Look straight ahead of you, not at your feet, when you walk. Try to keep your chin level with the ground.
  • Let your arms swing loosely as you walk.
  • Try not to take longer steps than feels comfortable. You can pick up the pace of your steps as you get more fit.

If It Hurts, Stop

Take a break or walk another day. Any sharp pain, redness, or swelling around your knees could be a sign of an injury. Let your doctor know. Ice sore joints for up to 20 minutes after your walks if you’re in pain or notice any swelling.

If you haven’t walked in a while, you could try to do too much and hurt yourself. If you’re sore for 2 hours or more after you walk, you may have done too much. Start slowly. Work up to longer or faster walks.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on April 19, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Managing Arthritis Pain With Exercise.”

Mayo Clinic: “Exercise Helps Ease Arthritis Pain and Stiffness.”

American Heart Association: “Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercising, Losing Weight and Health,” “Walking.”

Harvard Medical School: “5 Tips for Getting Started With a Walking Program,” “Walking: Your Steps to Health.”

National Institute on Aging: “Be Safe When Exercising Outdoors.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Building a Walking Workout.”

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