How walking can help back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and more!

Walking and staying active can actually benefit people dealing with back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic conditions. Walking strengthens your muscles, improves your balance and keep your joints nimble. Walking also helps to maintain a healthy weight, which takes stress off of joints.

If you’re dealing with a painful condition, you may be reluctant to get out and walk. Rest is important, but getting moving improves blood flow which promotes healing. Walking is a low-impact exercise that’s available to most people – even those with painful conditions.

We’ll cover 4 common conditions improved by walking, why walking promotes healing and how you can walk with less pain whether you’re suffering from a sore knee or a more difficult condition.

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Important note: If you’re suffering from a medical problem, make sure to talk to your doctor before starting a walking program. Your doctor can tell you if you’re healthy enough to walk, and how much walking is too much. If you suffer a new injury or feel intense pain, make sure to see a doctor before continuing exercise!

Common Conditions Improved by Walking

If you used to be an active walker, coming down with a condition that limits your mobility can be incredibly frustrating. It’s true that trying to push past the pain or “walk it off” can result in further injury. Rest is important, useful and necessary. But for many conditions, a total lack of mobility can actually make your condition worse.

Even after major surgeries, patients are encouraged to take short walks through hospital hallways as soon as possible. The key for walkers who suffer from chronic pain is striking the right balance to prevent overexertion. Getting active (at whatever activity level you can manage) can help these and many more conditions:

Back Pain

Man holding painful lower back
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Lower back pain, or back pain generally affects millions of adults suffer from back pain every day. Inflammation from injury or deterioration can put pressure on surrounding nerves, which can cause debilitating pain. Walking is a low impact aerobic exercise that can help relieve chronic back pain. Walking promotes circulation to nourish the spine, builds muscles for support, and helps strengthen bones. Walking and light strength training can also help to strengthen your core and back muscles, which helps you maintain better walking posture. Better posture, in turn, can help relieve the pain in your back as you walk.


Older woman with neck pain
Agenturfotografin / Shutterstock

Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects soft tissue throughout the body causing widespread pain and fatigue. While there is no cure, exercise is considered one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia. Walking daily can help improve balance, control weight, and gain strength leading to less pain throughout the body.


Knee pain arthritis concept
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There are many types of arthritis affecting patients of all ages. Arthritis causes painful stiff joints which make exercise difficult. A regular walking routine can decrease inflammation, increase range-of-motion, and help you lose weight to relieve excess pressure from painful joints. Walking also compresses and releases cartilage in your joints, which can help reduce inflammation and rejuvenate affected joints. Make sure to talk to a doctor so that you don’t overdo your exercise and make your arthritis pain worse. You’ll also want to pay special attention to your walking form and posture, as pain in your joints can cause your form to drop, which can lead to additional injury risk.


Runner with ankle injury
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While some injuries require you to avoid adding stress to the area, mobility is often still encouraged to promote healing. While many injuries require complete rest and inactivity on the injured area for a period of time, at some point you will usually want to start moving and strengthening the injured area. Getting active can increase blood flow to a wound or injured area, resulting in faster healing. Moderate exercise that does not cause pain will decrease healing time and help you avoid loss of mobility.

It’s important that you see a doctor and get any injuries diagnosed before you try to treat them on their own. If you’ve suffered a major injury (like a torn ligament), you may need surgery or other interventions to start healing. You may find out that all you need is rest and strengthening exercises, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

When coming back from an injury, it’s important to start slowly and prevent re-injuring the injured area. Your doctor can give you specific recommendations, but generally if you are feeling sharp pain in the affected area you should stop your exercise and look for something else that you can do that’s relatively pain-free. With certain minor injuries, like a sprained ankle, you may feel some residual soreness as you come back. When in doubt, take more rest. Walking will still be there when you heal up, but reinjuring an injured body part can often be worse than the initial injury and you’ll need to restart the recovery process all over again.

Why Walking Helps Relieve Pain

Man undergoing physical therapy
Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

Medical professionals generally recommend cardiovascular exercise is generally to everyone who is capable of doing so safely. Walking is a form of cardio that is gentle enough to be performed without adding additional stress to injured or damaged parts of the body. Just like rest, exercise is a way the body helps to heal itself.

  • Walking promotes healing by increasing oxygen and blood flow throughout the body.
  • A regular walking routine will help you keep off excess weight putting pressure on your spine, joints, and muscles.
  • Daily exercise increases flexibility helping you avoid pain related to stiffness.
  • Walking strengthens the surrounding muscles to help support damaged joints or vertebrae.
  • Exercise reduces inflammation that causes pain.

Don’t Overdo It

It is vital for anyone with a medical condition to speak with a doctor before considering any type of exercise routine. The “No pain, no gain” mindset is not one that applies when you are already suffering from a medical condition that causes chronic pain. The goal is to make things better instead of worse. Patience is the best way to achieve that goal. Getting 10,000 steps today doesn’t mean anything if you can’t walk for a week, or if you end up suffering an injury that requires significant rehab and healing time.

Here are some tips can help prevent overexertion.

Start slow

When you begin a walking program, start with only a few minutes each day. It is safe to increase your efforts in small amounts after you have exercised for several days without increased pain. It may take a few weeks before you can increase your distance or time. If you increase your steps, make sure to stay at that increased level for a week or more to ensure your body can handle it. You may find that 1 day is ok, but after a week your body is starting to get sore. Once you’re consistently walking at your new goal level without pain you can try to increase your goal slightly.

Warm-up and cool down

When doing any kind of cardio routine (like walking), start with a slow warm-up and end with a slow cooldown. Before you get into a brisk walking pace, make sure your joints and muscles are prepared. Likewise, if you plan to do any stretching make sure it’s after you’ve warmed up. Stretching cold joints and muscles can lead to injuries.

Track your steps

Pacer main screen ios

When you begin to realize that exercise is possible, you may feel able to do more than you should. This increase could backfire, resulting in excess pain long after your workout (or worse, spending a few days on the couch). Pacer can help you track your steps, and ensure you’re not going over your step goals. In this case, you’re not trying to push yourself to get more steps, but to stay within the range you’ve set for yourself. Comparing your steps daily can help you avoid injury on days you feel particularly energetic.

Talk to your doctor

woman talking to her doctor
Stuart Jenner / Shutterstock

Your doctor can provide valuable tips that will help you know what to avoid. Some conditions may benefit from a moderate incline while others should avoid it. Your doctor can also tell you how many steps is appropriate, and what signs and symptoms to look out for that could indicate a worsening of the condition.

Don’t make too many changes at once

It’s okay to increase your fitness level when you are improving and your doctor agrees it’s safe. However, it’s not a good idea to do everything at once. If you increase your distance and also add an incline on the same day, you won’t be able to tell what your body is responding to. Gradually increase the intensity of your routine by changing one element at a time.

Don’t forget to rest

Woman walking up get rest concept
Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock

The time that you aren’t walking can be just as important as the time that you are walking in recovering and feeling healthier. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, as sleeping allows your body to heal and recover from the stress of the day. Try to avoid drinking alcohol in excess, or other activities that can harm your body.

Listen to your body

If your body seems to be telling you something is wrong, listen to it! It’s good to motivate yourself and push yourself to hit step goals, but persistent soreness or pain could be your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. You could be “overtraining,” which means too much exercise without enough rest. If you’re feeling tired or sore, reduce your walking temporarily and focus on your walking posture. Once you start feeling stronger, you can increase your activity again.


Walking is a great way to help eliminate pain caused by medical conditions and improve your overall health at the same time.

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