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Can walking actually ease knee pain? (Spoiler: Yes)

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When your knees feel creaky and achy, the last thing you might want to do is move. Because, ouch. We totally get that logic. But hear us out: Certain types of movement have actually been shown to help manage pain and even improve overall knee health and function. Yep, you read that right. Read on to find out more.  

Common causes for knee pain

So why the pain in the first place? Here are four biggies: 

  • Having obesity or overweight

Carrying excess body weight can put stress on your joints—like your hips, knees, and spine. Over time, they may wear down and become painful. This may limit your ability to move comfortably, which can interfere with the amount of physical activity that you get each day.    

  • Living a sedentary lifestyle 

Did you know that being inactive can be hard on your joints? Besides increasing your risk for weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to weaker knees. (There’s something to that old saying about “use it or lose it.”) When you don’t move regularly, your body gets used to it and requires less work from your muscles which weakens the muscles and ligaments that support the knee. 

  • Arthritis

This is a seriously painful and, at times, debilitating disease that worsens with age. It’s characterized by inflammation and painful, stiff joints. While arthritis can’t be cured, there are things you can do to lessen the pain and slow its progression-—like stretching, walking and maintaining a healthy weight. 

  • Prior injury

If you’ve experienced a knee injury, you know firsthand that the pain can linger for years—even if you’ve undergone knee surgeries to repair tendons or ligaments. And there’s only so much that PT can do. 

So, let’s get back to our point about exercise. Research shows that walking can improve the health of your knees and reduce new and recurrent knee pain in those with osteoarthritis. People who walked for exercise were found to have less knee pain than non-walkers. More good news: Medial joint space narrowing (a medical term for when the bones begin to touch together and cause pain) was less common in walkers.

How walking can help with knee pain

Let’s look at what the science shows about the benefits of a regular walk:

  • It lubricates the joints by producing synovial fluid—your body’s equivalent of car grease or the lotion you need to get a ring off a swollen finger. It gets things moving! 

  • It increases blood flow to the tissues and muscles around the knee, which is key to recovery. How? Because circulating blood provides these areas with the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal and be healthy.

  • It strengthens the muscles around the knee to better support the joint. Remember, the knees are one of your body’s main shock absorbers. They take a lot of impact every day.

  • It helps increase your range of motion and prevents stiffness. This is important for a comfortable workout and everyday activities like walking, sitting, and taking the stairs.  

  • It’s a low-impact way to reduce weight, which can help reduce knee pain. A study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism found that losing one pound of body weight resulted in four pounds of pressure being taken off the knee joints. Adopting a walking routine may result in weight loss, easing the load on your joints.

How much and how often should you be walking? It’s important to listen to your body but aim for at least 30 minutes daily. And try getting out there to break up bouts of sedentary activity. If 30 minutes seems overwhelming, start with what you can! Remember, any movement is better than none. 

Tips on walking with knee pain

Here’s some expert advice to get you going.

  • Wear the proper footwear. Your feet are the base of your body, so if they hurt, everything else—your knees, hips, spine, you name it—will be affected. Show them some love and get a good pair of walking shoes that provide cushion, stability, and arch support. And don’t forget to replace them around every six months.

  • Walk at a pace that’s maintainable without pain Don’t get discouraged if you have to start small. Remember, it’s all about sustainability and building on your progress. If you push too much, you might hurt yourself and have to stop altogether, so do what you can and show yourself grace.

  • Choose the right path If you’re beginning a walking routine, stick to flat terrain—rather than tackling uneven surfaces like hiking trails.

  • Stretch often You know you should stretch, but you don’t. (And by you, we mean most everyone.) But the fact is that stretching is associated with improved knee pain and better range of motion—especially among those with osteoarthritis. Try doing dynamic—or active—stretches that move your joints in a full range of motion—to warm up before a workout. (Lunges and squats are good options.) And then after your workout, do static stretching, where you hold the stretch for, let’s say, 30 seconds or more. Doing quad and hamstring stretches can help you cool down. 

  • Keep moving throughout the day Sitting for long periods can cause the muscles that work hard for you while walking to become tight, such as your hip flexors and quads. This can cause a pulling sensation and lead to increased knee pain when you head out for your walk. Get up and take a walk around the office, stretch, or climb the stairs every 30-60 minutes during your day to keep things moving.

One final thing: There’s a difference between a little zing and pain with a capital P. If you’ve got the latter, touch base with your doctor. Otherwise, text your walking buddy and get out there. 

Found offers weight care that combines coaching with prescription medication for those that qualify. On average, Found members have lost 10 percent of their weight by month six and have kept it off. In total, members lost nearly 300,000 pounds with Found in 2020 and 2021 combined. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

  • Aoki, O., Tsumura, N., Kimura, A., Okuyama, S., Takikawa, S., & Hirata, S. (2009). Home Stretching Exercise is Effective for Improving Knee Range of Motion and Gait in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 21(2), 113–119. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.21.113
  • Bannuru, R., Osani, M., Vaysbrot, E., Arden, N., Bennell, K., Bierma-Zeinstra, S., Kraus, V., Lohmander, L., Abbott, J., Bhandari, M., Blanco, F., Espinosa, R., Haugen, I., Lin, J., Mandl, L., Moilanen, E., Nakamura, N., Snyder-Mackler, L., Trojian, T., . . . McAlindon, T. (2019). OARSI guidelines for the non-surgical management of knee, hip, and polyarticular osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 27(11), 1578–1589. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joca.2019.06.011
  • King, L. K., March, L., & Anandacoomarasamy, A. (2013). Obesity & osteoarthritis. Indian J Med Res., 138(2), PMID: 24056594; PMCID: PMC3788203. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3788203/
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  • Luan, L., El-Ansary, D., Adams, R., Wu, S., & Han, J. (2022). Knee osteoarthritis pain and stretching exercises: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiotherapy, 114, 16–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physio.2021.10.001
  • Messier, S. P., Gutekunst, D. J., Davis, C., & DeVita, P. (2005). Weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis &Amp; Rheumatism, 52(7), 2026–2032. https://doi.org/10.1002/art.21139

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