We often take our knees for granted until the very moment we have to pick ourselves up. You know the feeling … You start to stand and your knees are stiff. It takes you a few seconds to make sure they will bend and the popping sounds your knees make are kind of scary. This might make you want to curl up on the couch with your favorite comfort food and binge watch Netflix instead of getting those steps you know you need.
Believe it or not, walking is actually good for the knees – even knees that are not in the best of shape. Your knee joint is composed of bone and cartilage which relies on joint fluid for nutrition. Guess what? Knee movement ensures that your knees get the joint fluid needed to stay healthy. That’s another reason to get off the couch and get moving. Preventing knee injuries and strengthening your knees is key to getting more steps!
If walking seems to be a monumental task because of knee pain, start slow and take it easy. Do a short walk at an easy pace. Or try water exercise as a way to strengthen your knees until you’re able to do sustained walking.
Here are 8 Tips to Help Keep Your Knees Pain-Free
Maintain a healthy weight.
Every extra pound you weigh puts up to four extra pounds of stress on your knees when you walk or take the stairs. Shedding the weight the can improve pain or even make it disappear. It can be hard do to intense exercise if your knees feel painful, but you can make healthier eating choices (like swapping out soda) that can help you lose a bit of weight.
Avoid running stairs (if you have bad knees).
Do not run up and down stairs unless you are in great shape. Doing so puts serious stress on your kneecaps. If you weigh 150 pounds, running up steps can put as much at 600 pounds of pressure on your knees. Stick to lower intensity exercise, at least until you’re able to get more active and your knees feel a bit better.
Choose your walking surface wisely.
While walking is far lower in impact than running, you can still experience jarring on your knees with each step. Walking on natural surface trails (dirt, bark dust, pea gravel) is easier on the joints. Although they may be uneven, walking on them also gives you more natural balance exercise during your walk. For even surfaces, choose a cinder track at a school or community park. Asphalt is also easier on your joints than concrete. If you have a knee injury, don’t walk on the grass as this can put more strain on your knees and increases your risk of slipping or tripping.
Choose the Right Shoes.
Your shoes should be flat and flexible (check out good walking shoes to see this in action). Walking shoes should be fairly lightweight and bend easily in the forefoot. They shouldn’t have pointed toes — you need room for your toes to flex and be comfortable. Local running stores have experts who can help. Try not to walk too much in dress shoes, heels or flats. Even if your knees are not affected directly, foot soreness can lead to poor posture, which can lead to stress on the knees.
Check your Form and Alignment.
Building leg muscle strength and developing proper alignment from your hips to your feet can help to reduce patellofemoral pain syndrome (a common cause of knee pain). Doctors or chiropractors can help with proper alignment while simple exercises, such as lunges, can help build muscle strength.
Avoid inserts with arch supports (unless you’re sure you need them).
Arch supports are not always a good thing. Inserts do not allow your foot to flex naturally which can make knee issues worse. You can use inserts that cushion your foot if you think that helps or your doctor has recommended them.
Make sure to warm up first.
You may want to apply heat to your joints before you begin walking to help them warm up. You can also do stretching exercises to get your knee joints limber and moving. Start your walk slow to allow time for your joints to warm up. You can pick up your pace after a few minutes if you want. Think about taking your walks during low-pain times of the day. For example, if you are stiffer in the morning, get up and move around for a minute or two every half hour before walking. You will enjoy your walks more and that will help you be consistent.
Aim for 6000 or more steps per day.
It sounds contrary to what you’d expect, but a study cited by the American College of Rheumatology found that people with osteoarthritis knee pain benefit most when they walk 6000 steps or more per day. Use Pacer to track your steps and walking time so you can follow your progress.
Get up and move around or stretch every 15 minutes. This will keep your joint fluid warmed up and nourishing your knees. Even just a minute of motion can help reduce the health risks of sitting and will be good for your joints.
Conclusion + Important Notes:
If you do experience knee pain, make sure you see a doctor. Your doctor can check and see if you’ve suffered an acute injury and can diagnose your specific problem. You may need a different walking or exercise program, or follow different advice depending on your specific condition. Always consult your primary physician before beginning any exercise program. And, at your next doctor’s visit, discuss your exercise options to find what is appropriate for you.
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.