When it comes to knee OA – along with every other medical issue – prevention is always better than cure, and anything which can keep people off the operating table is always worthy of attention. And a new report – from a study team at the University of Delaware – is another firm endorsement to the power of walking to prevent total knee arthroplasty.
The study – which set out to determine if there was a link between walking intensity and the risk of total knee arthroplasty, be it positive or negative – studied the data of 1,854 participants who were marked as ‘at risk’ on the Osteoarthritis Initiative (the American data repository which monitors and tracks all potential and actual knee OA cases). This meant they had not undergone a total knee arthroscopy over the research period, which was 48 months.
The study team also quantified and tracked the walking habits of each participant, first by giving each participant an accelerometer and tracking their steps over four days, and then by breaking the amounts of steps per minute down into four groups: non-walking (no steps per minute), very light walking (1 to 49 steps per minute), light walking (50 to 100 steps per minute) and moderate-to-vigorous walking (over 100 steps per minute).
The results determined that an extra five minutes of moderate-to-vigorous walking instead of non-walking can reduce the risk of total knee OA by 16%, while the same five minutes of very light or light intensity walking has no overall effect.
So why is this? Well, there three established points of view about the benefits of walking:
Walking rebuilds the joints
Cartilage is the tissue in your joints which acts as a shock absorber for your knees. Unfortunately, they can become damaged and worn, which can bring on OA, resulting in pain, stiffness, and difficulty in moving. Because cartilage acts like a sponge, it can absorb the nutrients from the compression and decompression of your body weight as you walk, meaning it can attempt to repair itself faster.
Walking strengthens the legs
This is very important: walking, like all exercise, helps to build leg muscles and stronger leg muscles can take a level of pressure off your joints and can handle more of the weight themselves, resulting in less knee pain.
Walking helps lose weight
Studies prove that one pound of weight lost removes four pounds of pressure on your knees – and less pressure equals less pain. That’s a huge difference, and the best low-impact method of losing weight is the extension of your daily walking distance.
“Walking may exacerbate knee pain and further make things worse, but on the other hand, walking is helpful to build and maintain strength and may prevent the development of difficulty functioning,” said study co-author Hiral Master, PT, MPH, during the presentation of the study in Chicago last month. “Small changes in walking behaviour could delay the need for total knee arthroplasty in people with or at high risk of knee osteoarthritis.”