Ailing Knees? Study Shows Walking Might Be the Antidote

Remember the days when your shoulder, elbow and knee joints never hurt? No matter how active we were, everything worked like a well-oiled machine.

But then adulthood came, complete with minor aches and pains. And then for many of us, middle age and beyond rolled around and our hinges got rusty.  

Having had some knee issues recently and going to my doctor to rule out serious concerns, I was especially interested in articles I saw on the Fox News and New York Times websites.

They were both about recent research on knee discomfort and walking. The study suggests the latter could be beneficial for the former.

Natural Solution Over a Pill?

The study involved 1,212 adults 50 years of age or older who had experienced knee discomfort.

Some of the participants had persistent discomfort. While for others it was more periodic.

The study, which lasted four years, determined that those who began with less frequent knee discomfort and walked for exercise were less likely to experience new stiffness or aches in the knee area. 

I found it refreshing that a study suggested a free way to deal with an issue might be preferable to treating discomfort with a pill.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine

Dr. Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo is an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. The lead author of the study said the findings represented a "paradigm shift."

"The idea here being that prevention is the key," she said. "If you can catch people before they get regular symptoms and get them to walk, this might be very helpful in preventing the development of regular knee (discomfort).

"Everyone's always looking for some kind of drug," she added. "This highlight the importance and likelihood that interventions… might be something different, including good old exercise."

Of course, we're all different and no study will provide the right answer for everyone. If you're experiencing knee discomfort, see your doctor for the best solution for you.

Walkers Have Less New Knee Discomfort

According to the study's findings, 37% of participants who did not walk for exercise developed new knee discomfort. That's compared to 26% who did walk for exercise.

Researchers admit there is no conclusive evidence that walking is what helped prevent new knee discomfort in the participants.

Also, they did not claim that walking for exercise contributed to lessening existing knee discomfort.

And much of the data for the study was based on self-assessments rather than fitness trackers and step counters. 

Low Impact, High Effectiveness 

Still, the study supported what is already known about managing knee discomfort.

Including that consistent movement can help create muscle mass. Which strengthens ligaments surrounding joints.

As a low-intensity and low-impact exercise, walking can help people maintain strength and flexibility. Both of which are important for healthy joints.

As Dr. Elaine Husni from the Cleveland Clinic said, "It's an intervention that anyone can do. You have no excuse. You can do it anywhere you are."

Start Slowly and Build Up

In addition to getting your doctor's OK to walk for exercise for your knee discomfort, make sure not to overdo it. Especially at first. 

It's best to build up to it gradually. Sports medicine specialist Dr. Justen Elbayar says walking is one of the best exercises you can do for minor knee discomfort. But long distances might exacerbate the problem.

Walking can provide muscular support to the knee, as the joints, tendons and tissues become acclimated to the exercise. 

Recommendations include a good pair of walking shoes and staying hydrated, especially in hot weather. Frequent stops to rest can help, as can icing your knees after a walk.      

Older Adults More Affected

They say roughly one-third of adults over 60 have knee discomfort. I wouldn't be surprised if the real number is higher.

Many people deal with joint discomfort for years without seeing a doctor for it. They figure it's part of getting older. 

It's true that older folks are more likely to experience aches and pains than younger people. But I'd still rather minimize or eliminate discomfort if I can rather than live with it.

To each his (or her) own, I guess. Personally, I've found walking not only helps with general knee discomfort. It's also therapeutic.

Walking Is Not Just for Cardio 

When it comes to walking, most medical personnel have traditionally seen it as an aid to cardiovascular health.

More recently, low-impact workouts including walking have been seen to help with a variety of physical and mental issues.

This study suggests that walking could also be effective as a preventative method for knee discomfort. 

People at greater risk of knee discomfort may want to consider walking (or doing more walking) as a way of trying to stave off what they see as inevitable knee discomfort.

A Simple Remedy for Knee Issues

Edward Farrell is a physical therapist at Physical Solutions on Long Island, New York. He's also a certified strength and conditioning trainer.

He said it's unfortunate that some people become more sedentary due to knee discomfort rather than engaging in walking. 

He said, "Often these patients feel participation in self-care needs to be drastic. (Such as) joining expensive gyms, buying elaborate home equipment.

"When sometimes the answer could be as simple as going outside for a walk." He also recommended building some lower extremity strength and losing some weight if necessary.

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