If you’re seeking relief from knee pain, the answer may be simple: Walk.
That’s what a 2022 study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology concluded after surveying 1,212 participants age 50 and older with knee osteoarthritis.
“Those who walked for exercise were less likely to develop frequent knee pain,” explains lead author Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo, MD, MSc, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
In addition, researchers found that the exercise could be preventive: “Walking for exercise could also help people with knee osteoarthritis to prevent regular knee pain and maybe additional damage to the joint,” Lo says.
Also known as wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative-joint disease, osteoarthritis occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees as cartilage breaks down, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling; this can lead to reduced function and even disability.
Injury or overuse, such as repetitive stress, can damage a joint and increase osteoarthritis risk. Plus, the likelihood increases with age and weight gain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So, while the study results may seem counterintuitive, Lo believes walking may offer perks that outweigh the joint use, such as building strength in and around the knee and improving balance and proprioception. “Walking is aerobic exercise,” she notes, “so there might also be a systemic benefit to joints when getting your heart rate up.”
This article originally appeared as “Walking Toward Healthier Knees” in the September 2023 issue.