Arthritic knees can be painful and debilitating – enough to make you want to stop walking around.
Find ways to reduce the pain and it will improve your arthritic condition.
Walking is critical to independence, healthy aging and healthy joints.
Strong muscles can absorb a great deal of the forces that contributes to the pain. So, start doing strengthening exercises and a good one is walking. But how can you walk if it is painful?
Most likely you have heard that walking can help you lose, or at least control, your weight. The “catch 22” is that being overweight increases the impact of ground forces on the knee. But let’s turn this around. For every pound of weight you lose, you reduce the stressful forces on the knee by 4 pounds. If you loose 10 pounds you will reduce the stressful knee forces by up to 40 pounds.
Of course, 4 pounds is an average number affected by a number of factors. Here are three big considerations:
- It assumes you are walking on a smooth level path at a moderate pace. If the terrain is uneven or your walking speed is brisk, the forces go up.
- Your walking biomechanics could be putting more the force to the medial side of the knee where arthritis is usually most severe.
- The strength of your leg muscles might be insufficient to reduce the pound forces.
Resolving the Conundrum
Use aides and strategies to improve your walking mechanics
and to reduce the impact of ground forces.
Get the right kind of shoes
Ready for a surprise? Walking barefoot is better for you than so called walking shoes.
Research shows that barefoot walking increases the rolling action of the foot. This absorbs some of the ground forces and lessens the forces on the knee. But walking barefoot is not always practical. The solution is to walk in low heed, flexible shoes. Over time this can improve your gait and reduce the forces on your knee by up to 20%.
Dr. Comfort makes their Flex-OA models based on this research. They are available in both men’s and women’s styles.
Consider an unloader brace
These awkward looking braces work. There is convincing research, but I know from first hand experience. The principle is this – there is only on hinge on the brace and it is on the inside of the knee. The hinge keeps pressure off the inside of the knee by shifting it to the outside. This works because most osteoarthritis of the knee is in the inside of the joint.
Here is my testimonial. When I got mine six month ago, I couldn’t walk very far without pain. Pain during the walk and pain hours afterwards. Now I easily walk five miles spread throughout the day – without pain. I walk every day and am getting the desired pain reduction from walking. I also have built up my leg strength from walking. How do I know? I have had to loosen the straps on both the calf and thigh since the brace was fitted.
A Physical Therapist can show you how to apply tape to the outside of your leg. Like the unloader brace, this shifts the forces to the outside of the knee and foot. In my experience, it is only about half as effective as the unloader brace. I use the unloader brace when I know I am going to exercise. But it is hard to get pants over the brace so it is not practical for everyday walking. I use tape for these occasions. I either put it on before hand or keep a roll in my car in case of need.
Diet to lose weight
Remember that for every pound of weight you lose, you about 4 pounds of pressure off you knees. Losing weigh starts a positive cycle with regard to walking. Less weight, less pounding. Less weight, the more the muscles in your legs can absorb ground forces. Less weight, the further and faster you can walk and accrue the many health benefits.
Frequent Short Walks
Long walks can contribute to overuse trauma. Fortunately, frequent short walks can be just as effective from a cardiovascular perspective. Frequent walks also overcome the health hazards of sitting too much.
Strengthen Your Legs
You don’t have to go to the gym to strengthen your legs. One way is the use steps or stairs or a street curb. Put one foot on the lower level and one on the higher. Now extend the upper leg without pushing off with the lower leg. Your body weight provides the exercise stimulus.
Walking is good for you in general. Walking is essential to mobility and independence. Walking can reduce arthritic pain. Go forth and walk.