When you’re struggling with knee sensitivity or pain, it may seem counterintuitive to treat it with movement and increased activity levels. But that is what doctors around the world recommend for relief – exercise is therapy for knee pain. Some of the best exercises include walking, water aerobics, and swimming. 

Of all the exercises meant for managing knee pain, walking is the most highly prescribed. It is simple, free to do, and can be done anywhere, it is the one activity that kept early nomadic humans active and agile. But more than that, walking offers powerful benefits for overall health to people of all agesit can firm up your abdominal muscles, improve balance and flexibility, get your body in shape, and even lower high blood pressure and help diabetes.

Since walking is a low-impact activity you can take it up no matter what your fitness level. This straightforward exercise improves your range of motion and helps alleviate stiffness and inflammation. Now the reason why doctors recommend it so freely to manage joint pain is that it is safe for most chronic knee problems. And there is no harm in trying. 

All you need to do before taking it up is get yourself a great pair of walking shoes (and we’ll expand on that later in this article).

If you’re still worried about worsening your knee pain or stiffness, just keep reading. 

Why Walking Is Crucial To Knee Health?

To understand why walking is such an important part of a healthy lifestyle, let’s take a look at what is happening in your knees when you walk.

Your knee is made up of bone and cartilage. Bones are always getting their much-needed nourishment from the blood supply and a constantly beating heart. Cartilage does not. Instead, the cartilage relies on joint fluids for nourishment.

How does that happen? When you move your joints, your cartilage receives its much-needed “fuel” to function and maintain its health. 

You may have noticed that your joints tend to stiffen and perhaps feel sore after you’ve been sitting in one posture for too long. Or when you wake up in the morning. And that they ease into motion after you’ve moved around a little. This is so because moving your joints lubricates them and improves their function.

Walking regularly maintains keeps your joints “well-fed” and “oiled”. Also, walking builds and improves muscles supporting your knees and stronger muscles can take more load off your knees. Firmer muscles carry the weight of your body better and relieve your knees from doing the extra work. Making walking part of your everyday routine is thus part of preventive care for your knees – it protects them.

The Manifold Benefits

It can be challenging to walk when you have knee pain, sensitivity, or stiffness. But walking is key to reducing your symptoms, keeping your bones strong, and maintaining your function. Here are just some of the benefits in point form.

  • Lubricate joints
  • Builds muscle strength to support the knee
  • Protects the knee
  • Increases blood circulation to and around the joint tissue
  • Lowers weight and reduces pressure on the knee
  • Prevents the knee from becoming stiff 
  • Improves range of motion 
  • Reduces joint deterioration

Findings That Prove Benefits Of Walking

There are numerous studies and research that prove the many benefits of walking. However, for the sake of brevity with are only looking at one in this article.

A study published in 2022 by Arthritis & Rheumatology, shows that those suffering from osteoarthritis can lower their chances of knee pain with more walking. 

Researchers studied the walking routines of more than 1200 people with knee osteoarthritis. The individuals (mostly in their 60’s) were asked about how frequently they went for walks for exercise and how often they suffered from knee pain. The researchers also took x-rays to evaluate the damage to their knee structure.

They found that among these people, those who took up walking as a form of workout were 26% less likely to suffer from knee pain in later years. Eight years later, the researchers followed up on the same individuals and further found that those who did not walk for exercise were 37% more likely to develop knee complaints.

What the researchers concluded is as follows: A regular walk is a form of preventive care that protects the knee from developing pain from knee osteoarthritis. And also, even among people who complained of knee pain or stiffness, those who regularly walked as a form of exercise, had lower structural damage to their knees than their non-walking counterparts.

Why Walking Won't Hurt Your Knees...

If you’re suffering from joint pain, the doctor will recommend low-impact exercise as therapy. Low-impact exercise is one that gets slowly and gently increases your heart rate and does not put undue pressure on your joints as opposed to high-impact exercises like jumping or running.

Walking is one of the most popular low-impact exercises. Other low-impact exercises include stationary cycling, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, tai chi, and using the elliptical machine.

How To Manage Knee Pain While You Walk

We’ve established that walking reduces knee pain. But now the important question is, how can you reduce knee pain while walking?

Here are some of the most crucial tips to help you.

#1. The right shoes

Ease into walking by first investing in a pair of super-comfortable, sturdy shoes – shoes that “cushion” and absorb the impact on your knees as you walk and support your knees. That  means a low heel-to-toe drop and a good heel. 

Your shoes should basically be flat, flexible, and preferably light. Also, go for shoes that offer wider toe room – such shoes are the most comfortable.

Your heel should ideally be 0.75 inches or less. Sensitive or painful knees can be easily triggered with a slightly higher heel. Even if your heel is 1.5 inches higher, it can raise pressure on two of the most commonly painful parts damaged by knee osteoarthritis.

Never ever go for a walk in pointy toes, high heels, or heavy shoes.

#2. Use Inserts

Arch supports are not recommended when you have sensitive knees. In fact, you should avoid wearing shoes that offer high arch support. When going for a walk, it is best that your shoes allow your feet to flex and move as naturally as possible.

If you’re used to using arch supports and find them helpful, then simply use those available over the counter.

#3. Warming up

Whenever you go for a workout, even if it’s just a walk, always begin with a warm-up. And when you have knee issues, that means you start by applying heat to your knees or just go for a walk after taking a warm bath or shower.

All doctors and wellness coaches recommend taking baby steps when you want to reach your exercise goals. That means going on a comfortable, easy pace especially when you have sensitive or stiff knees. Get your joint fluid moving with slow steps for a few minutes. You can gradually pick up pace after that.

#4. Try to walk 6000 steps a day

It’s best to begin a walking program with a goal and the goal should be to reach 6000 steps a day. You can use a phone app to keep count of your steps.

Begin by walking only as much as you easily can, without pushing yourself too much. Now the reason why you are aiming for this particular number of steps is based on a study conducted on people suffering from osteoarthritis knee pain. The researchers found that their patients experienced an improvement in knee functions and pain issues when they walked at least 6000 steps a day.

This amount of walking gently massages your knees with internal joint fluid and may also help lose some excess weight. 

Try to reach a step count of 6000 a day, then eventually increase it further if you want to. But be careful not to strain your knees.

#5. Increase your walking time slowly

If you find step count challenging, you can choose to walk for a certain amount of time. And you don’t have to walk for that time at a stretch. Just break your walk into segments of 10 minutes each, then take a break and do another 10 minutes. The idea is to start walking at a pace you can keep up with so that you can make it part of your daily routine. 

As you gradually build your pace, you can incorporate 10 minutes of brisk walking in between. Or walk briskly for the amount of time you find challenging.

#6. Walk when your knees are at their best

When you’re just getting started at building a walking routine, it is best to walk at the time of the day your knees hurt the least.

That means you should avoid the morning time or right after you wake up if that’s when your knees are most painful. Instead, push yourself to get up and walk about in the house for a minute or two, every half hour. This will prepare your knees for longer walks and make it easier for you to commit to them.

#7. Keep moving throughout the day

This tip is the most useful in keeping your joints lubricated, especially as you age and if you have a sedentary lifestyle. Just get up and stretch or move about your room every 15 -20 minutes.

If you get active for even just a minute, you can vastly lower the health risks associated with sitting for long periods of time and you will be nourishing your knees with joint fluid.

#8. Use a walking aid if needed

If you are suffering from too much knee pain or experience stiffness to the point of having difficulty maintaining stability, you may want to use a suitable walking aid. Some people find canes or trekking poles help lower joint pain while walking.

The Takeaway

Walking is the most accessible form of exercise that can help you stay fit and maintain healthy knees. It is the most natural form of movement recommended for people of all ages and fitness levels. Incorporating a walking routine into your everyday life comes has many benefits and prevents the development of knee issues.

Always begin a walk with a warm-up and set realistic goals for yourself – aim for the number of steps or the amount of time that you can commit to and easily maintain. If you have severe joint pain or stiffness, then consult your doctor before you begin.


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