How to Walk for Knee Arthritis
Arthritis can be painful and make your knee joints stiff, limiting your mobility and making everyday tasks difficult. To counteract this, you need to exercise to keep the legs muscles strong and the knee joint flexible. Walking is a great form of exercise. It is free and can be done anywhere at any time. Having arthritis can make walking challenging, but there are some things you can do to help make it easier.
Start slowly. If your goal is to walk 30 minutes a day, you can start with three 10-minute walks. Then add on a little more time each walk until eventually you can complete one 30-minute walk. Walking on sand, uneven pavement and uphill is difficult, so start with a smooth, flat surface until you buildup.
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Support your knee with assistive devices. Using a cane, crutch or walking stick can help ease knee arthritis pain while walking. If you're using a walking stick or cane, hold it opposite to the side that is more painful. This allows you to lean your weight away from the affected side, taking pressure off your knee. Wearing a knee brace also can help to stabilize your knee as you walk, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Keep your leg muscles strong and flexible. If your leg muscles are weak or tight, they will pull on the knee joint as you walk, making movement uncomfortable. The University of Washington states that “strong muscles help keep your joints stable and more comfortable.” Visit the UW website (see Resources below) for an extensive list of exercises for those with arthritis. UW also suggests it is best to walk when you have the least pain and stiffness.
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Use modalities. If your knee is painful or stiff, warming the joint before you walk can be helpful. Use a heating pad, take a warm shower or sit in a whirlpool right before you walk. Apply the heat for 10 to 15 minutes before walking. Apply ice to the knee after your walk. This will help to calm inflammation and numb any pain.
Walk in water. If knee arthritis makes walking on land too painful, try water walking. The water relaxes your muscles and is non-weight-bearing, so it takes pressure off your knees. In addition, walking through the water takes work. Your muscles must push you through the water, which provides full-body resistance training. You can either walk in the shallow end or use a flotation belt and do deep-water walking or running. The Arthritis Foundation suggests lifting your knees higher with each step and swinging your arms for a full-body workout.
Start slowly and check with your physical therapist or physician before starting any new exercise program. Everyone responds differently to exercise and you will need to find the right walking program based on your individual situation.
It may be helpful to speak with a podiatrist about getting the right shoes. There are special sneakers made just for walking. There are also inserts and other devices that can help to support your foot and ankle as you walk so you will not place unnecessary strain on the knee.
Look for water classes endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation. They are held in pools heated to 85 degrees F and include exercises, including walking, that are specifically geared toward those with arthritis.
Stop any walking program that makes your symptoms worse. With a walking program you may initially feel some additional stiffness and soreness, which should get better as you get stronger. In contrast, any activity that increases your symptoms is a signal that something is wrong.
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- Arthritis Foundation: Walk with Ease Program
- Arthritis Foundation: Water Walking
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State-Specific Prevalence of Walking Among Adults with Arthritis — United States, 2011. Published May 3, 2013.
- White DK, Tudor-locke C, Zhang Y, et al. Daily walking and the risk of incident functional limitation in knee osteoarthritis: an observational study. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2014;66(9):1328-36. doi:10.1002/acr.22362
- Building a Walking Workout. Arthritis Foundation.
- CDC. State-Specific Prevalence of Walking Among Adults with Arthritis—United States, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. May 3, 2013 / 62(17);331-334.
- Pagan CN. Working Out Through Pain. Arthritis Foundation.
- Christensen L, Corliss J. Living Well With Osteoarthritis: a Guide to Keeping Your Joints Healthy. Boston, MA: Harvard Health Publications; 2016.
- White DK, Tudor-Locke C, Zhang Y, et al. Daily Walking and the Risk of Incident Functional Limitation in Knee Osteoarthritis: An Observational Study. Arthritis Care & Research. 2014;66(9):1328-1336. doi:10.1002/acr.22362.
I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.