Benefits of Walking with Knee Arthritis

Spoiler Alert: It is ok to keep walking with arthritis in your knees! It may seem counterintuitive, but continuing to move the knee and continuing to be active when you have knee pain from knee arthritis is very important. In fact, walking is probably one of the best knee exercises for arthritis. The cartilage in the knee is nourished by motion and activity, and the beneficial effects of exercise are numerous!

I’m going to discuss a new research study that asked this specific question, and then highlight three reasons walking is good for knee arthritis and knee pain! If you aren’t patient enough to read the background and want to skip ahead, you can click on the shortcuts below.

  1. Decreased chance of having new knee pain
  2. Lower risk of arthritis progression
  3. Walking leads to longer life

Background on Knee Arthritis

Knee arthritis is a leading cause of knee pain in the United States. Most medication treatments are limited to anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections in the knee, and other options that don’t modify or improve the structure within the knee itself. The medical societies recommend a comprehensive approach to treating knee arthritis, including the incorporation of educational, behavioral, and physical interventions.

Is It OK to Walk with Knee Pain?

One of those often recommended physical interventions is exercise. Some studies have already shown the benefit of exercise for knee arthritis, specifically walking. However they didn’t track the results for a very long period of time. A new study published in Arthritis and Rheumatology studied the impact of walking for exercise of a period of several years, and measured the impact on the structure of the knee and the symptoms patients had from knee arthritis.

The goal of the study was to assess if it was “ok” to walk with knee arthritis and walk with knee pain. They also wanted to assess the effect of walking on both symptoms (pain, etc) and structure (condition of the cartilage).

Results of Study for Patients who Continued to Walk with Knee Arthritis

Overall, 1212 participants were included in the study with follow-up results for 8 years. On average the patients were 63 years old, 45% were male, and 55% were female. When judging x-rays, 64% of them had mild to moderate arthritis when starting, with 36% having more severe knee arthritis.

1. Decreased Chance of Having New Knee Pain

In the research study, those patients who walked for exercise had a 40% lower chance of having new knee pain compared to patients who didn’t walk for exercise! In this specific study, they weren’t able to prove that walking decreased existing pain. However, having a walking routine did ward off new pain in the knee joints!

2. Lower Risk of Worsening Arthritis

Compared to patients who didn’t walk, people with arthritis who walked regularly had a 20% less chance of disease progression in the medial joint space. This means that when judging x-rays over an 8-year period for people with osteoarthritis (OA), those with a walking program had a lower chance of the arthritis on the inside of their knee getting worse, when measured on x-ray.

3. Walking Helps You Live Longer!

A separate study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared to patients who didn’t walk for exercise to people who did walk for exercise. In patients who walked at an average to brisk (fast) pace, they had a 20% lower chance of dying for any reason (all-cause mortality) during the follow-up period compared to those who walked at a slow pace. They also had a 24% reduction in dying from cardiovascular reasons during the follow-up period.

Walking Is A Good Exercise For Knee Arthritis
Consider walking outside. In addition to providing exposure to Vitamin-D producing sunlight, time spent in nature has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Walking – The Best Exercise for Arthritis?

This study is a unique investigation because it followed patients with arthritis for 8 years. It didn’t just look at the beneficial effects of walking on pain, but it also looked at the structural implications (progression of arthritis on x-rays). Walking for exercise is beneficial for may reasons! It can help with weight loss (which also helps knee arthritis), it helps with cardiovascular health (especially if walking at an average to brisk pace), and it helps with mental health.

Multiple studies have shown that losing weight helps knee pain. It is estimated that 3-6x your body weight is transferred through your knees. Less body weight results in less stress on your knees. In addition to a well-balanced diet, physical activity and aerobic exercise such as walking can help achieve a healthier body weight. There are even some diets that are thought to specifically help with arthritis and arthritis-related pain.

Walking and physical activity (even if just for 30 minutes) can reduce inflammatory markers in the blood, which is also thought to reduce the perception of pain. Multiple studies have shown that long-term, consistent exercise results in improvements in both pain and function. For this reason, walking as a form regular exercise could lead to less knee pain, and walking with arthritis in knees is still recommended. In fact, it may be one of the best exercise for arthritis and maybe the best exercise for knee pain to get started with.

Interestingly, with this study, the results varied based on the alignment of the knees. In patients with varus knees (knees bow out) walking seemed to help with both pain and decreasing structural disease progression. In patients with neutral alignment, walking helped mostly with pain. In patients with valgus alignment (knees bow in) walking didn’t seem to help with either pain or structure.

FAQ. Walking with Knee Arthritis

Can too much walking make arthritis worse?

The results of this study demonstrate that walking does not make arthritis worse. In fact, patients with arthritis who walked regularly as a form of exercise were less likely to have new knee pain, and less likely to have progression of their arthritis.

Should you keep walking with arthritis?

Based on the result of multiple research studies, patients with knee arthritis should continue walking if possible. The studies show that walking decreases the chance of new knee pain, decreased the chance of arthritis getting worse, and improves longevity.

Can you walk with arthritis in the knee?

Yes! In fact, scientific research demonstrates that walking with knee arthritis is beneficial in multiple ways. For one, walking decreases the chance that you will experience new knee pain. Secondly, walking decreased the chance (by 20%) that you will have progression of your arthritis on knee x-rays. Finally, walking for exercise has been shown to increase lifespan.

References:

  1. Lo GH, Vinod S, Richard MJ, Harkey MS, McAlindon TE, Kriska AM, Rockette-Wagner B, Eaton CB, Hochberg MC, Jackson RD, Kwoh CK, Nevitt MC, Driban JB. Association Between Walking for Exercise and Symptomatic and Structural Progression in Individuals with Knee Osteoarthritis: Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative Cohort. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2022 Jun 8. doi: 10.1002/art.42241. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35673832.
  2. Stamatakis E, Kelly P, Strain T, Murtagh EM, Ding D, Murphy MH. Self-rated walking pace and all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: individual participant pooled analysis of 50 225 walkers from 11 population British cohorts. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Jun;52(12):761-768. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-098677. PMID: 29858463.
  3. Borisovskaya A, Chmelik E, Karnik A. Exercise and Chronic Pain. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1228:233-253. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-1792-1_16. PMID: 32342462.

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