Walking with joint pain, plus how to get more steps pain free

Exercise can be difficult when dealing with joint pain, but you can maintain a walking routine that keeps your joints mobile. One of the reasons that walking is the most recommended form of exercise is that it’s accessible to most people, and can actually help with joint paint and joint issues. It’s still important to take things slow, avoid further injury, and build up your steps over time especially if you’re a beginner.

We’ll cover why walking can help with joint pain, how to increase your step count safely, plus how to stick with your walking routine.

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Why Walking is Good for Joint Pain

Senior couple walking in the countryside
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Joint pain can come from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, injury, and playing sports. Whether it’s your knees, your shoulder, or some other place in your body, joint pain can make it difficult to motivate yourself to take a walk. While walking can cause pain in problem joints, using your joints in a beneficial way also helps your joints feel better in the long run.

A walking routine that keeps you moving consistently can accomplish the following health benefits.

While rest can be beneficial, if you don’t move for long periods of time your painful joints can become stiffer. Walking gently stretches out your muscles and tissues, while helping keep joints lubricated and limber. Keeping your muscles strong supports and takes pressure of your joints.

If you’re dealing with new or undiagnosed joint pain, make sure to consult with your doctor first to find out if a walking routine is right for you. Your doctor can help you find the right sort of exercise and frequency that will fit into your treatment plan.

Start slow

Man walking in park for fitness
pixelheadphoto digitalskillet / Shutterstock

It’s always a good idea to start slow whenever you’re walking with joint pain. You should both start with a slow walking speed and gradually increase your intensity and walking duration over time. Doing too much walking may lead to further injuries, which would be a setback to your healing plan.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends following a formula called FIT:

  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Time

Frequency means how often or how many days per week you walk. Intensity refers to both walking speed and other intensity factors like incline and walking surface. Time is how long you take on each walk. Begin with an attainable goal for all three levels of the formula.

Start by walking at a frequency of 3-5 times per week. If you’re an experienced walker you can try more than this, or if you’re dealing with serious pain start at a number that works for you. Walk at a speed that you can tolerate; you should be able to carry on a conversation with a walking buddy. If moving is quite painful, begin with a simple five-minute walk.

As you build up your endurance and your walking routine, change only one part of the formula at a time. For instance, continue walking the same number of days and at the same intensity, but increase your walking time to ten minutes. As you slowly work your way toward longer, more intense walks, you’ll know you are building up your joint strength and improving your overall health!

Ways to Make Walking Easier

Active senior nordic walking in a grassy park
Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

Do you have trouble keeping a routine? Don’t let setbacks discourage you, because maintaining a consistent daily walking routine will help keep your joints nimble. If you’re having difficulty sticking with your walking routine, consider these tips to help. They might give you the right amount of motivation to keep moving through the pain.

  • Walk with a buddy. Committing to a walking routine is much more enjoyable when you share it with someone. A family member can help keep you on track and be supportive of you when you experience pain during your walks. Can’t find a person to walk with you on a regular basis? Your dog might be the best walking partner you can have!
  • Wear good shoes. Your walking shoes are your equipment. Choose a good quality pair of walking or running shoes that allow your feet to move naturally. Your shoes should be flexible and reduce the stress on your knees. Check out Healthline’s list of the 10 best shoes for bad knees and OA knee pain
  • Track your progress. Seeing how far you’ve come since you began your walking routine is a super motivator. It also helps to make sure you’re not walking too much, but gradually increasing your steps over time. Have you walked more than you ever expected? Give yourself a reward! You’ve earned it.
  • Pay attention to where you walk. Cut out the boredom in your walking routine. Even if you walk the same route every time you get out, you can still make it interesting. Concentrate on the different natural elements around you: the squirrels and birds, the leaves on the trees, or the clouds. Make mental notes of changes in your scenery. Notice how the air feels on your skin. A little creativity can go a long way to make your walk go faster and keep your attention off your pain.

Always remember to listen to your body. If your joint pain becomes worse, consider lessening your walks or visiting your doctor. However, resist the urge to stay seated. Exercise does limber up your body and strengthen your joints, which eventually helps alleviate joint pain. Keep your mind on the goal as you walk. You’re going to love the healthier, stronger you!

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