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Walking can prevent new knee pain for some, study suggests

A promising new study suggests that walking can relieve knee pain in people with osteoarthritis.

Researchers surveyed 1,000 people age 50 or older with knee osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in the United States. Some had constant pain at the start, while others did not. After four years, those who started without frequent knee pain and walked at least 10 times for exercise were less likely to experience new, regular stiffness or pain and less structural damage around their knees. A study suggests that people suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee can especially benefit from walking.

Research offers the potential for an easy and free way to combat one of the most common culprits of knee pain in older adults.

The findings represent “a paradigm shift,” said Dr. Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo said. “Everybody is always looking for some kind of medicine. This highlights the importance and potential that osteoarthritis interventions, including good old exercise, may be different. Research suggests that exercise can help manage osteoarthritis in other joints, such as the hips, hands and feet, he said.

Osteoarthritis, sometimes called “wear and tear” arthritis, affects 32.5 million adults in the US and occurs when joint cartilage breaks down and the underlying bone begins to change, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk of developing the condition increases as you age, and about one-third of people over 60 have knee osteoarthritis, Dr. Lo said. Many patients take medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen to treat pain, which can lead to kidney problems and ulcers in high doses, he said.

Instead, they should be able to turn to exercise. For decades, health experts have looked primarily at walking to improve cardiovascular health, said Dr. Elaine Husni said. In recent years, doctors have looked to low-impact workouts to treat conditions such as depression, cognitive impairment and mild osteoarthritis. But a new study shows that walking can work as a preventative measure, Dr. Low said, and suggests that people at high risk of developing the condition may want to incorporate regular walking into their routine. For example, a Dr. says that her mother has osteoarthritis so she needs to walk more based on her findings. Low himself said.

The study began in 2004 and recorded participants’ baseline knee pain using radiographs to assess their osteoarthritis. Researchers asked participants to record their exercise habits and checked their symptoms at regular follow-up visits, asking how often their knees hurt.

After four years, 37 percent of study participants who didn’t walk for exercise (not including the train or the occasional trip to the grocery store) developed new, frequent knee pain, compared to 26 percent who walked.

Of course, researchers can’t say for sure that walking prevents knee pain, and it doesn’t seem to reduce existing pain. Self-assessments can be less accurate than fitness trackers or step counters. And the researchers didn’t track the distance or frequency people walked, nor did they recommend strategies for how and when people with osteoarthritis should incorporate walking into their exercise routines.

Still, the results add to what doctors already understand about how to manage osteoarthritis. Consistent movement helps build muscle mass, strengthening ligaments around joints with osteoarthritis, Dr. Husni said. Walking is a low-intensity, low-impact workout that allows people to maintain strength and flexibility, which are critical for healthy joints, he said.

“It’s an intervention that anyone can do,” he said. “You have no excuse. You can do it anywhere. “

Sports medicine expert Dr. The Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Langone Health was not involved in the study. Walking long distances can exacerbate pain in some patients with severe arthritis — but for those with mild arthritis, “it’s one of the best exercises you can do,” he said.

He recommends people start with shorter, shorter walks, gradually building up the distance over time. The goal of exercise is to provide muscle support for the arthritic knee, he said, and allow the joints, tendons and tissues to get used to walking.

He advised using supportive shoes, drinking plenty of water while walking and taking frequent breaks if tired or new. After a long walk, knee icing can also help relieve discomfort, he said.

While walking down the street can’t repair cartilage or alleviate existing pain, exercise offers a compelling and accessible option to prevent the more intrusive aspects of osteoarthritis, Dr. Lo said. After all, he said, “Walking doesn’t cost a cent.”

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