Does Walking Make Knee Arthritis Worse?

Arthritis in a knee joint can make walking almost unbearable for sure. So it’s natural for the question “Does walking make knee arthritis worse” to come up, isn’t it?

Your knee hurts when you put weight on it, move it, or try to walk to the car. When that’s happening it simply doesn’t make much sense to think that it will get better with exercise.

But the truth is — Walking Does Not Make Osteoarthritis Worse.

Walking makes Osteoarthritis better!

In fact, any regular exercise will help keep you mobile, active, and walking with much less pain.

Does Walking Make Arthritis In Knees Worse?

The fact is: With osteoarthritis in your knees, regular walking should become an integral part of your lifestyle.  Walking for exercise is generally considered a minimum of 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.

So, even though it may be difficult to motivate yourself to go for a walk with stiff knees, not walking will only worsen the situation.

Without a regular activity that involves walking you will soon start to lose:

  • Range of motion in your knees
  • Muscles and tendons will shorten, causing more pain
  • Arthritic knees will stay swollen, stiff, and sore

How Walking Makes Knee Arthritis Better

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint damage in our knees, hips, hands, and lower back. And when you understand what arthritis is, it’s even easier to think walking makes arthritis worse?   But it doesn’t, and here’s why: 

What is Cartilage

Without cartilage, there would be nothing to keep two bones that come together to make up a joint from rubbing together. That rubbery material known as cartilage covers the end of bones and provides a smooth surface and cushion for the bones to rotate on as they flex and move. 

Labeled image of a healthy knee joint
Healthy Knee Joint

What is Osteoarthritis in the Knee

But what happens to the Cartilage?

Osteoarthritis in the knee, as in any other joint, is degenerative which simply means the cartilage you see in the image above starts to degenerate and disappear from the joint. 

When the cartilage starts degenerating there’s nothing to keep the bones from touching and rubbing together. 

image of knee with osteoarthritis
Arthritis in Knee as Cartilage Degenerates

When the Tibia and the Femur bones start rubbing it causes swelling, pain, inflammation in the joint, and loss of the full range of motion. 

Does Cartilage Heal?

Our body is a healing machine on its own! When you break a bone or cut your finger, it immediately starts the process of fighting off infection, inflammation, and healing itself.

However, the body has no way of repairing or replacing damaged cartilage. Once it starts leaving, the condition will only get worse. 

Once it’s gone, it’s gone. 

But, life and activities you love don’t have to be gone — even with arthritis in your knees.

How Walking Will Ease The Pain of Knee OA

Walking, or other low impact exercises that creates sustained motion in your knee joints is the number one treatment option for osteoarthritis.

Here are the benefits of walking, even when you think it could do more damage:

1. Walking Builds Muscle

Mature couple walking with arthritis to strengthen muscles

My normal reaction to pain or discomfort in my knees or other joints is to try not to move it? I mean, if movement brings pain why would I want it to move?

Here’s the problem with that:

Without moving my knees the muscles that support my legs begin to also deteriorate, shrink, and shorten. This is called atrophy of the muscles, and when this happens it adds more pain when you walk.

With arthritis you want to keep all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that make up your knee joint as healthy and strong as possible. 

Regular walking for exercise will build and maintain the muscles you need to support the ailing joint. Refusing to walk and sitting more will cause atrophy and more pain. 

2. Walking Keeps the Joint Lubricated

Joints and cartilage depend on natural lubrication to to help them slide and move with ease. The lubrication is called synovial fluid and it aides in moving oxygen and needed nutrients into the knees. 

It takes exercise to move the synovial fluid into the knee and cartilage, and it’s vital to nourish the cartilage you have left in the joint. 

Part of the problem that causes Osteoarthritis is that we spend so much of our time either sitting, or standing with no movement. That lack of motion in our knees hinders the production of the synovial fluid that promotes healthy cartilage. 

Of course when you first get up in the morning or start moving from a sitting or standing position, your knees may be stiff and sore. But as you move you begin the process of moving fluids and lubricants into the knees to lubricate, and keep them functioning.

3. Walking Can Help You Lose Weight

Man walking with knee sleeves to help arthritis

In the US we are in an epidemic of overweight and obesity which worsens and speeds the onset of arthritis in our knees. 

A walking regimen of 30 minutes to an hour 4 or 5 times a week will help you make a conscious effort to lose extra weight and take excess pressure off your knees.

Every pound of weight you can get off your knees is saying goodbye to quite a bit of pain.

Purchasing a knee sleeve for added support can go a long way towards helping you enjoy walking instead of dreading it.

Compression knee sleeves add support to your knee, helps warm the joint, keeps your muscles and knee joint in alignment, gives you confidence in your knee, and brings pain relief.  

4. Knees Need Rest

Now that you’re walking most days of the week, your knees will also need rest.

That means two things:

  1. Get plenty of sleep because sleep is the time that your entire body relaxes and muscles recover from your exercise and daily activities.
  2. Don’t get obsessive about walking and over do it. Especially when you’re new to walking on a regular basis, it’s easy to think more is better? Depending on the severity and pain of your own arthritis, you might start with walking only 10 minutes, and slowly work up to 30 or 40 minutes in an exercise session.

It won’t take long to recognize the difference between a tired knee and you just not wanting to walk?

Remembering how important walking is to maintaining an active lifestyle with arthritis will keep you motivated, but when the joint and muscles are tired – they need rest. Otherwise, you will merely create more problems.

7 Tips for Walking With Knee Arthritis

  1. Get a good pair of walking shoes. The soles of walking shoes should be flexible, soft, and flat. I really have a hard time finding all these qualities in shoes to walk in, but they are worth the search.  Running shoes with with elevated heels, a sole that’s too hard, and won’t bend in the middle are abundant —  But walking with knee arthritis in a pair of those won’t be the best experience. Instead, look for very soft sole shoes with little elevation in the heel that cushions and absorbs much of the impact before it reaches my knees.
  2. Warm up your muscles and body before you start. Especially with arthritis, it’s important to warm up before starting out. You want to get your muscles, tendons, knees and hip joints warm and fluid and blood moving through them before you begin. You can go through a stretching routine, take a warm shower just prior to walking, or merely add a few minutes to your time for walking to go slow at first. Part of the purpose of knee sleeves is the compression that helps to increase blood circulation that warms the joint, so you may want to give a good sleeve a try.
  3.  Start out slow. When you are new to walking regularly for exercise with arthritis it’s important to start walking short distances at first. Try walking 10 or 15 minutes several times a week, and gradually work up to 30 – 60 minutes. Starting slow will build your endurance levels and give you an opportunity to see how your knee feels. If you start out walking too long, or too intensely, you’ll wind up dealing with sore muscles, unnecessary knee pain, and quit your exercise program before you realize the benefits.
  4.  Find a walking partner. There are times when I prefer to walk alone, but generally I do better with a partner. Someone to walk with gives you motivation to exercise when you would just as soon not. Sometimes I don’t really want to go, but on the other hand, I either know my partner depends on me, or I would rather go than admit I don’t want to. Sometimes we have long conversations, and other times we walk for an hour with hardly a word. Another plus for many people is that they feel safer with a walking partner along.
  5.  Some walking surfaces are better. The softer the surface, the less impact to your knees, the better the walk. Maybe? Walking on trails, grass, cinder tracks at high schools, or gravel roads is easier on your joints and gives you a chance to practice and maintain your balance, but takes more effort than walking on smooth surfaces.  I see a lot of people walking in malls early in the morning for exercise, but concrete surfaces are harder on knees than asphalt tracks and roads. Some people prefer the cushioning of treadmills in the privacy of their home. 
  6. Make walking part of your lifestyle. When you’re new to walking, you don’t want to overdo it by going for a walk every day and paying for it with more pain and soreness. However, you want to make it a habit by making sure you walk at least 3 times a week to start. After a couple of months you should be up to 5 times a week and a bare minimum of 30 minutes. You are going to see within a short time that walking doesn’t make your knee arthritis worse at all, but instead maintains your range of motion and helps your knee immensely. 
  7.  Try adding a stationary exercise bike to the mix. If you have access to a stationary bike, or even a bicycle, cycling can really strengthen other muscles in your leg to drastically improve your ability to walk. Cycling increases the strength of opposing muscles used in walking and can add even more endurance and support to your knees.


So, I hope you can see by now that walking does not make knee arthritis worse. Walking actually makes my knee arthritis much better to the point that I stay as active as I want. 

Some days I start with a knee that’s stiff, and could make me think it’s just not up to the trip? But it’s always the same: After a few minutes the muscles and the joint begins to warm up and move with complete ease. 

Regular walking will make a tremendous difference in your own lifestyle with osteoarthritis along with helping you maintain healthy weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. But there are other great forms of exercise for arthritis in the knees as well.

There’s swimming, cycling, doing aerobics in the water, and any other form of low impact exercise that involves using the range of motion of your knees. The most important thing about arthritis in your knees is that staying active will keep you active.

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