Is Walking Good for Arthritis in the Knee?

Taking a walk may be the last thing on your mind if you are dealing with arthritis in your knees, but it is actually quite beneficial. Staying active each day is one of the keys to managing the soreness in your joints. Read the info below to learn more about the benefits of walking with arthritis and for tips on starting your own exercise program. 

Mexican Woman Walking

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How Walking Helps Knees

The simple act of walking can have a wide range of benefits on your arthritic joints, many of which can help to decrease your pain. On top of that, getting up and moving each day can combat the joint stiffness and soreness that is associated with inactivity. The sections below detail the specific benefits that going for a walk can have on a knee with arthritis

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Healthy Cartilage

One of the hallmark causes of arthritis is the wearing down or thinning of your cartilage. This tissue “cushions” the joint and helps to absorb the forces placed on your knee. As this tissue wears away, normal activities like squatting, stair climbing, and standing can become quite painful.

Fortunately, walking can help combat these symptoms and positively impact your cartilage. One study found that individuals who walked for exercise have increased levels of a substance called interleukin (IL)-10, which is a chemical that protects the cartilage tissue.

The same study also found that people with arthritis who walked had lower levels of cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP), a protein found in the blood that is thought to be a marker of cartilage breakdown.

In addition, the majority of our knee cartilage is avascular (meaning it gets no blood flow). Instead, this tissue gets its nutrition from a substance called joint fluid that enters and exits the knee as we move. Walking helps increase the nutrients and oxygen in the knee by “squishing” or compressing the cartilage and bringing in new joint fluid to the area.

Weight Control

Another huge benefit of a regular walking program is the effect it can have on your weight. Going for a 30-minute walk at a brisk speed can burn up to 200 calories. Over time, this caloric expenditure (combined with a healthy diet) can translate into meaningful weight loss.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is always a good idea, but it is especially important for people with osteoarthritis. This is because every extra pound of weight translates into extra amounts of stress placed on your knees during your daily activities.

In addition, excessive stores of fat can also trigger an inflammation-causing chemical to be secreted throughout the body. By reducing your weight, you can prevent excess inflammation from developing and reduce the likelihood of an arthritis flare-up.

Strong Muscles

While walking alone will not build up muscle mass in your legs, coupling your aerobic workout with a strength training routine can have positive effects on your arthritis symptoms. In fact, a recent review showed that individuals with osteoarthritis who performed both cardio exercise and regular strength training saw improved pain levels and better daily function than people who were not active.

These benefits occur because stronger muscles can better support your arthritic joints and decrease the stresses placed on the area. To properly address your arthritis symptoms with strength training, try focusing on exercises that target the quadriceps and hamstring muscles in the front and back of the knee joint.

Before You Start

Prior to starting a new walking program, it is a good idea to discuss your exercise regimen and any symptoms you are experiencing with your doctor. Keeping your physician informed is important to ensure you are not performing an activity that is ill-advised in your particular situation.

It is also a good idea to begin your walking routine during a time when your symptoms are relatively mild. Patients with osteoarthritis are generally stiffest in the morning and feel better after they have “warmed up” their joint by moving around. In this case, you may want to wait to walk until later in the day when your joints are feeling looser and less achy. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Walking

Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a systemic form of the disease in which symptoms wax and wane intermittently, should also be mindful of when they walk. If you are experiencing a flare-up, it is important to allow your joints to rest and recover. Because of this, starting a walking program during a flare-up is not recommended. Once the inflammation and soreness have subsided, however, it is usually safe to start exercising.

Pre-Walk Prep

Just before starting your walk, change into comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that do not restrict your movement. Be sure to wear a pair of shoes that are comfortable and designed to give you some support while you are exercising. It is also a good idea to carry a bottle of water with you as you walk to keep well-hydrated.

To properly prepare your knees for movement, you may want to apply a hot pack to your arthritic joints for up to 20 minutes prior to the walk. Heat can bring blood flow to the area and help loosen up any stiffness you are experiencing. This is true for people with both osteoarthritis and RA, though caution should be taken during an RA flare-up as heat may actually increase the inflammation in the joint. 

Just before going for a walk, you can also try pedaling for 5 to 10 minutes on a stationary bike (with little to no resistance added) if one is available. This style of warm-up can also help increase blood flow to the knee and loosen up any pre-walk stiffness in the joint.

Tips for Walking               

The tips listed below can help both novice exercisers and experienced walkers get the most out of their cardio regimen.

  • Attempt to walk at least three to five times each week, though if this is going well you can perform the activity daily.
  • Start off walking at a lower intensity. As you become more comfortable, try to increase your speed so that you feel flush, your heart rate increases, but you could still have a conversation.
  • Walk for as long as you can initially, but gradually strive to exercise for at least 30 minutes at a time.
  • Begin by walking courses that are relatively straight and flat. As this gets easier, vary your route by incorporating hills and curves.

How Often Should You Walk?

To start, schedule your walking sessions for at least three times per week with the goal of eventually walking every day.

Post-Walk

Following your walk, it is a good idea to spend 5 to 10 minutes cooling down by walking at a slower, relaxed pace. This can help decrease your heart rate to its normal levels as you finish exercising. Stretching the leg muscles (specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) can also prevent any post-walking soreness from developing.

Once this is finished, be sure to keep drinking water afterward to ensure you do not get dehydrated. If you have knee arthritis, you may feel some post-walk soreness once you sit down and rest. To combat this, try placing ice packs over your knees for up to 20 minutes. This can help stave off any inflammation that develops after exercise and make the entire workout process more comfortable.

A Word From Verywell

As noted above, walking is one of the more beneficial things that you can do if you are experiencing knee arthritis. However, getting started can be challenging if you are new to exercising. Pairing up with a friend or exercise partner to walk with can be helpful to keep you motivated as you begin your new regimen.

It can also be useful to track your progress. Try keeping track of the number of minutes you walk or the steps you take each session. Monitoring your improvement from week to week can keep you focused and accountable. If you are still struggling, it is a good idea to speak to your physician. They may be able to pair you up with a physical therapist who can create a more custom plan for your individual needs. 

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  5. NYU Langone Health. Lifestyle changes for rheumatoid arthritis.