Is Walking Bad For Your Knees?

Our bodies move daily, going through one range of motion to the next, almost seamlessly and mostly without problems.

But you could be taking your dog for a walk or going down a set of stairs when you notice that your knee is hurting.

Knee pain may come on suddenly or it can develop over time from years of overuse and everyday wear and tear. Our knees take a beating over the years from repetitive movements from when you stand, bend, go for a run or walk. The amount of force that’s placed on the knee can be between 2 to 3 times our body weight.

If you’re recovering from a knee injury, surgery or if you’re experiencing knee pain from arthritis, you may be wondering what form of exercises you can do safely. While you may be looking at low-impact exercises, sometimes one of the best ways to strengthen the knee and stimulate bone growth is by doing weight-bearing exercises.

Walking is one of the most underrated weight-bearing exercises, but you may be wondering if walking is bad for your knees.

Is Walking Bad For Your Knees?

While knee pain may have you wanting to stay home, the truth is that walking isn’t bad for your knees.

Walking can help to alleviate the pain and inflammation, as well as help to improve the symptoms that you’re experiencing and help to prevent further damage.

Even if you have osteoarthritis, going for a walk has many benefits.

Overall Benefits of Walking

Main Benefit

Walking builds muscle and strengthens the muscles that support the knee, and this helps to take the pressure off the joints. This will help to alleviate the pain and inflammation of the knee.

But walking also spreads synovial fluid around the knee, and the synovial fluid is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cartilage in the knee.

This lets the knee move better, without friction on the knee bones, and it helps to reduce stiffness in the knee. As you increase the distance that you walk, you’ll notice that your legs don’t feel as fatigued.

Walking is low-impact, but it’s also a weight-bearing exercise—when your bones support your weight—which helps to stimulate bone growth and improves bone health.

As the density of your bone increases and the bones become stronger, the risk of fractures, osteoarthritis, knee arthritis is reduced or even slowed down.

Other Benefits

Walking is an underrated exercise but it can help you achieve specific fitness goals like weight loss.

Walking not only works the leg muscles but it also works out the core, spinal muscles, and the stabilizing muscles of the pelvis.

It’s easy to do and can be done anywhere, and being outdoors not only gives you a boost of vitamin D3, but taking a walk outdoors feels less strenuous.

Research has shown that exercising outdoors helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improves one’s mood. It also increases the blood flow to the brain, which provides protective chemicals that can help reduce your risk of Alzheimers and dementia.

It can help to improve your memory and provide mental clarity where you could find a creative solution to a problem that you’ve been experiencing.

Walking will improve your overall cardiovascular health and your respiratory system. With regular walks, you’ll see a noticeable increase in your energy levels. It will also help to boost your immune system, which will help to prevent or reduce the risk of cancer and other ailments.

After you’ve had a meal, you may not feel like walking, but it can help to reduce reflux or heartburn and it will help speed up digestion, as walking stimulates peristalsis, which moves food through the GI tract to the small intestine.

Walking will also increase your levels of melatonin, which will not only help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night, but you’ll get a night of quality sleep.

Can I Walk When I Have Knee Pain?

Yes, you can walk when you have knee pain. But if you’re experiencing severe knee pain, then you’d want to start off walking slowly for a short distance and only for a few minutes.

This will also give you some time to notice if there’s a change to the amount of pain that you’re experiencing. However, if the pain increases, stop walking immediately.

If the pain is mild, you may find that the relief in pain can happen quickly as the compression of the knee joint starts to move the synovial fluid, lubricating the joints.

If you notice a change in the level of pain you’re experiencing after your walk or if the pain remains while walking, you may want to try different low-impact exercises.

You could try using an elliptical machine, biking, or even aqua walking, as there’s no pressure placed on the joints.

How Can You Protect and Strengthen Your Knee?

Use the Right Footwear

When you go walking, you want to make sure that your joints have adequate protection by wearing proper shoes.

Your shoes should have sufficient cushioning to help reduce any shock from your footstrike while letting the foot move freely through your gait cycle.

Make sure the shoe provides arch support for your foot shape, as this will help you to maintain a good posture and distribute your body weight evenly without placing pressure on your knees.

Having the right arch support will also help to prevent your knees from being pushed out of alignment, which will reduce the risk of further injury or knee pain.

If the shoe provides the right amount of cushioning but you feel that you need more arch support, then you would need to invest in inserts. Getting the right insert for your arch type will help to support the arch of the foot adequately.

Try Walking Poles

Walking poles or trekking poles can help with stability and balance on your walk, as well as provide more control when you’re going down an incline.

Walking poles will have a rubber foot that can be used on asphalt, which can also be removed, revealing the metal spike if you’re walking on softer terrain like grass or sand.

The walking poles will absorb some of the impact from walking and can help you to maintain a good posture by keeping you upright. This helps to alleviate any load stress that could be placed on your hips and lower back.

Use Cold Therapy After Exercise

After your walk, apply an ice pack to the knee for about 20 minutes. This will help to reduce any inflammation or swelling and alleviate any pain as well.

You can apply the ice pack to the knee between four and eight times a day—don’t exceed 20 minutes of icing the knee at a time.

Eat Healthy

A healthy diet can provide the body with foods that can help reduce inflammation and pain in the body.

Fish like tuna, mackerel, salmon, and sardines are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which not only help to reduce inflammation but could help to protect the cartilage and reduce the severity of the cartilage breakdown.

You want to stay away from refined grains like pasta, white bread, white rice, and sugar, as these can make inflammation worse.

Eating a healthy diet can also help to lose excess weight, which will decrease the amount of stress that’s placed on the knees.

Stay Active

While rest may seem like the best thing for your knee, you need to make sure that you maintain its range of motion.

One way to do that is to avoid resting for long periods, as this can cause the joint to weaken or stiffen. Get up and walk or do stretching exercises every hour, as this will keep the synovial fluid moving and it will help the knee to heal.

When you go for a walk, try to walk on softer terrain like grass. This will reduce the impact of your foot strike and place less stress on the joints.

Start strengthening the muscles around the knees, this will help to reduce the overall stress on the knee. It will also improve your range of motion and protect the knee cartilage.

Strengthening exercises like leg lifts, step exercises, and standing hamstring curls will improve the strength of the knee without placing stress on the joint.

A knee brace or knee sleeve can be worn when you go for your walk, as this will help provide support to the knee and keep the kneecap in alignment. This will reduce the risk of injury, as well as provide pain relief.

More Tips for Walking

Warm Up

Before you go for a walk make sure that you warm-up, as this decreases your chance of injury and helps to reduce muscle soreness after your walk.

Warming up the knee will also help to decrease stiffness, lubricate the knee and increase blood flow, which will also increase the temperature of the knee. This will help to relieve the stiffness of the joints while making movement easier.

To warm up your knees, you can do a down dog calf stretch, where you form a “V-shape” by planting both hands firmly on the ground in front of you and keeping your feet on the floor, hip-distance apart.

Then, press push one heel down toward the ground, where you should feel it stretch the calves, achilles, hamstrings, and lower back. Alternate pushing your left and right heel into the ground.

If you find that bending or kneeling positions tend to hurt the knee, then you can also try the following to warm up your knee:

  • Mini band walks
  • Reaching 1 leg deadlift
  • Lateral leg raise

Choose the Right Time

Monitor your knee pain, and when your pain is at its lowest then go for a walk.

This will allow you to enjoy your walk, but be sure not to overdo it. Start with shorter distances or times, and if you don’t experience severe pain afterward, then you can look to increase the distance and time gradually.

Have a Goal

When you start walking, set some goals as this will help to keep you motivated and you’ll be able to track your progress. You can easily set walking goals with your smartwatch or phone.

You may want to walk 6000 steps per day, but in the first couple of days you may only be able to do 4000 steps. As your steps increase, you’ll be able to notice your progress, not only in the number of steps but how your knee may be improving overall.

Once you’ve achieved 6000 steps, then you can set a new goal where you can try walking for 60 minutes per day or even going for a 3-mile walk.

Try walking every day for 5 consecutive days, and each day add 5 to 10 percent onto what you did the previous day. This will help you to achieve the goals you set while keeping tracking of how your knee is doing.

Get a friend to walk with you, as this will not only help you to stay motivated, but you’ll find that the amount of time spent walking and talking passes by very quickly.

Look at doing other low-impact exercises like swimming, aqua walking, biking, elliptical machine, or adding strength exercises to your exercise routine.

This will help to strengthen and develop the muscles that support the knee, which will help to take the load stress off of the knee.

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