Walking is the most popular exercise among arthritis patients.
Why? Because it is a simple form of exercise that has been shown to improve symptoms, physical function, and quality of life.
According to researchers at Northwestern University, even just one hour of brisk walking a week (or less than 10 minutes a day) allowed older adults with symptoms of osteoarthritis to maintain their ability to perform daily tasks like getting dressed and safely crossing the road.
But, as with any form of exercise, there can be risks involved if not done properly, and one of the biggest problem areas for older walkers is their knees.
To help you find the best balance between staying active and preventing knee pain, we’ve put together our 5 top tips for walking with sensitive knees.
Let’s get started…
Tip 1: Start small and build up
As is the case when starting any new form of exercise, it’s best not to attempt too much in one go and end up injuring yourself.
Despite popular fitness apps such as Fitbit heavily emphasising the aim of 10,000 steps a day, for many people who are elderly, sedentary, or suffering from chronic pain such as arthritis, this is too challenging and isn’t entirely necessary.
In fact, research has shown that just 6,000 steps per day correlated with a lower death rate in men, so even increasing your daily step count by a small amount can make a huge difference to your health.
If you don’t have access to a pedometer, walking programmes such as the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease (WWE) recommend starting with three walking sessions a week, each at 30 minutes.
Tip 2: Choose softer walking surfaces
Despite the temptation to stick to hard surfaces when walking (such as pavements), natural surface trails (such as dirt, bark dust, and grass) are actually much kinder to your joints as they give an extra layer of cushioning.
If the idea of walking ‘off-road’ makes you uncomfortable, look to see what nearby sports tracks, halls and gyms have available, such as cinder tracks, asphalt, and treadmills.
Treadmills in particular are great for older walkers as they are often designed with padding beneath the moving belt, which softens the blow on the feet and prevents knee injury.
Tip 3: Choose the right equipment
It’s important to ensure that your feet are properly supported when walking, as this can have a huge impact on your knees.
Colleen Louw, PT and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, suggests that you find walking shoes or boots that are comfortable, supportive, and not too rigid.
She adds that you should also ensure that your chosen footwear has proper arch support, a firm heel, and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock.
If you do decide to go walking on natural surfaces and for a longer distance, it is also worthwhile investing in walking poles to help maintain your balance and your confidence too.
Tip 4: Introduce other low-impact exercises into your routine
It may seem odd recommending non-walking exercises in a walking blog, but introducing additional low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling into your routine will certainly help reduce knee pain when you are out walking.
Swimming is particularly beneficial as, when you swim, 90% of your body weight is supported by the water, meaning minimal stress is placed on the joints.
What’s more, swimming also helps to tone up your joints’ supporting muscles, making them better at supporting the knee when walking.
Tip 5: Pain management techniques
The same way you’d prepare yourself for a long walk with water, snacks and (in the UK in particular) a raincoat, it’s also important to ensure you’re prepped for any possible pain that may crop up.
As the process of walking gets the fluid in your joints moving, it’s worthwhile ensuring you have cold packs to hand once your walk has finished.
Cold packs (a type of cold therapy) work by reducing blood flow to a particular area, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain.
Why not try an alternative approach such as QTECH’s Targeted Pain-Relief Patches?
These wearable and drug-free bands are designed to reduce the number of pain impulses from reaching your brain.
Most importantly – listen to your body
Whilst there are many ways that you can help prevent knee pain from ruining the activities you enjoy, it’s important that you consider the current limits of your joints and work within those limits.
If you wake up one morning after a long walk and feel a little stiff, take it easy and see how you feel after an hour or two.