Several studies state that the right kind of weight-bearing exercises can work wonders for those with knee pain and arthritis.
Well, yes and no. Confused? Walking can help some kinds of knee pain but in others, it can worsen the injury. For example, if you have had a fall and hurt your knee, you are better off in your bed giving complete rest to your joint, lest the swelling aggravates. If you have sprained your knee or dislocated it or worse fractured your knee cap, again it is advised that you use RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) the joint for at least 48 hours.
However, for those who have long-standing (chronic) arthritis, walking can help in the long run.
Several studies state that the right kind of weight-bearing exercises can work wonders for those with knee pain and arthritis. This includes rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosis spondylosis, psoriatic arthritis. These work especially well for knee pain when you are recovering from a knee injury (rehabilitation).
How does walking help with knee pain?
Walking helps in the following ways:
- Relieves stiffness: Walking will stretch the muscles that surround your knee joint. When you start walking, initially you will find it painful to move your joints. When you continue, it gets better.
- Weight loss: There is around four times less stress on your knees for every pound you lose. Weight loss is by itself a remedy for knee pain.
- Helps with cartilage regeneration: If you suffer from osteoarthritis or age-related joint degeneration, the cartilage that lines the joint surface is damaged. When the joints bear weight via any kind of weight-bearing exercise, the exercise can help rebuild the joint cartilage. Walking or weight-bearing also strengthens the bones that form the knee joint.
- Muscle strengthening: Walking on the right surfaces wearing the right kind of shoes helps strengthen your thigh and calf muscles. These muscles take the pressure off your joints and can handle more of the weight themselves. Thus, the stress on the knee joint goes down.
- Improve your balance: When you walk, your spine and pelvis align to your trunk and maintain your posture and gait. In long run, walking helps improve balance, reducing your risk of falls.
Which exercises are recommended for those with knee pain?
Always speak to a health care provider before initiating a fitness protocol. It is better to start small and be consistent. Remember never to overdo your exercise and hydrate as much as possible. Proper footwear is a must! Always warm-up before you start exercises. Low impact aerobic exercises are the best exercises for those with knee pain. These include
- Water aerobics: The water’s buoyancy will help take the weight off your knees and you can exercise better and for a longer time. You can wear a flotation device and walk from one end of the pool to another if you cannot swim. Also, it is fun!
- Walking: Walking at a moderate speed for 30 minutes daily can help your knee pain. Be mindful of the surfaces that you choose to walk on. Walking barefooted on hard marble floors, pebbled roads, and cobbled streets is a definite no-no. This can increase the stress on your knee joints due to uneven surfaces. It can also increase your risk of slipping and falling. Hard surfaces can affect the knee joint structures unfavorably because these surfaces do not absorb the shock of the movement. Try walking on grass or treadmills with a good shock-absorbing surface. Use a cane or a walking stick if needed. Make sure you have the right shoes for exercise. They must absorb shock well and must not be too tight, too loose, or too hard.
- Swimming: Swimming is undeniably the best exercise for those with knee pain. Thirty minutes of swimming daily keep the heart healthy, muscles active, and body lean. Try freestyle or backstroke for fun, and get a super workout experience.
- An upper body ergometer: This is a bicycle that you peddle with your arms till you achieve the desired heart rate. There is no pressure on the knees. This works for you in case you have a severe injury or you are recovering from lower limb surgery and want to manage your weight.
There are many other options available for those who wish to exercise with knee pain. Those are specialized exercise protocols using a “rowing machine” or medicine balls. These are best done under the supervision of an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.
As a rule, those with knee pain must avoid high-impact exercises, such as skipping and playing basketball, football, tennis, squash, soccer, and racquetball. Squats, lunges, and sloped terrains on a treadmill may also not be for you. Talk to your doctor, listen to your body, and find out what works best for you.
Medically Reviewed on 6/3/2021
DiLonardo, M.J. “Walking to Ease Knee Pain.” WebMD. <https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/knee-pain-walk>.