Tags: Health Topics | Arthritis | knees | walking | exercise | surgery

Brisk Walks May Help Arthritic Knees

a woman walks down a fog-covered trail at montie beach park in houston
(Cody Duty/AP)

By    |   Monday, 03 December 2018 05:39 PM

If you suffer from knee arthritis and worry walking will only worsen your damaged joint, a new study suggests you put your fears aside, slip on some sneakers, and take a brief but brisk walk.

The researchers estimated if older adults with the condition added just 5 minutes of brisk walking to their day, their odds of needing knee replacement surgery could dip by 16 percent.

On the other hand, light walking – akin to a "stroll" – might have no impact, said lead researcher Hiral Master, a Ph.D. candidate in biomechanics and movement sciences at the University of Delaware.

Her team reached those conclusions by digging into data from over 1,800 older adults with knee arthritis who wore portable devices that tracked their walking intensities for at least four days.

Over the next 5 years, 6 percent of the participants had total knee replacement surgery.

The researchers used the data on people's walking habits to examine the effects of replacing "non-walking" time with time spent walking at different intensities. The findings showed substituting just 5 minutes of down time with moderate-to-high intensity walking was linked to a 16 percent decline in the odds of needing knee replacement surgery.

The study authors defined "moderate-to-high" intensity as more than 100 steps per minute. In laymen's terms, Master said, that is a "brisk" walk that gets your heart rate up – not a stroll around the block.

The findings were presented Saturday at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Knee osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage cushioning the joint gradually breaks down, which can eventually result in bone scraping on bone.

The condition is common among middle-aged and older Americans. According to the Arthritis Foundation, up to 13.5 percent of men and 19 percent of women aged 45 and older have knee arthritis that is severe enough to cause pain and other symptoms.

And those patients often wonder whether walking is good or bad for their arthritic joints, Dr. Paul Sufka said, a rheumatologist at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.

"They often ask whether they should minimize their activity, keep doing what they're doing, or intensify," said Sufka, who is also with the American College of Rheumatology's communications committee.

"The general advice we give to patients is to stay active," Sufka said.

But, he added, the truth is there is too little evidence to give patients definitive recommendations.

The new findings do not prove brisk walking directly lowers the risk of needing knee replacement surgery, Sufka noted.

But "this gives us some useful information to bring to the discussion," he added.

Overall, Sufka said, research does suggest it is better for people with knee arthritis to be active rather than sedentary. And that is not just for the sake of their knees. Physical activity has a range of health benefits, including lower risks of heart attack and stroke.

Master agreed, and pointed out exercise can help arthritis patients' mental well-being, as well as physical.

And it does not take a huge lifestyle change, she explained. The new findings suggest people can benefit from adding a short, brisk walk to their day.

In fact, Sufka said, such incremental shifts might be best.

"The best exercise program is the one you can actually stick with," he said. "If right now, you're walking around the block every day, what would be 5 percent or 10 percent more than that? You can gradually build from where you are."

And what if walking is painful? That is a tricky question, Sufka acknowledged. Some patients might benefit from physical therapy rather than only exercising on their own, he said.

Beyond aerobic exercise like walking, strengthening exercises for the leg muscles supporting the knees can also be helpful, he suggested.

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A new study suggests, if you have knee arthritis, you can put your fears aside, slip on some sneakers, and take a brief but brisk walk.
knees, walking, exercise, surgery
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2018-39-03
Monday, 03 December 2018 05:39 PM
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