Knee Arthritis? Here's Your Treadmill Rx


Denise Mann, MS

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If you are one of approximately 14 million Americans who lives with the pain of knee osteoarthritis (OA), you’re probably sick of hearing everyone tell you to exercise to beat the pain and stave off the need for joint replacement surgery.

But, in truth, exercise can be as potent a pain reliever as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs–minus any potential side effects. Recent guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology suggest that exercise should be one of the mainstays of treatment for knee OA, and walking on the treadmill is a convenient and safe way to reap these benefits all year long.

Knee OA, the wear-and-tear form of the disease, develops gradually as the cartilage lining the knee joint erodes. When this happens, the protective space between the bones decreases and pain, stiffness and trouble walking can occur.

Your knee OA treadmill Rx can help. Here’s what you need to do:

Get your doctor’s OK.

Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor. Make sure you have clearance to begin working out.

Always warm up first.

A 10- to 15-minute warm-up including some range of motion or flexibility exercises can prime your body and knees. Talk to a physical therapist who has experience in treating people with knee OA for some advice on the best warm-ups for you. A warm shower prior to exercise may also help.

Put your best foot forward.

Supportive footwear can reduce the impact of treadmill walking on your knees. Researchers out of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found flat, flexible footwear allows for a significant reduction in the force placed upon the joint during daily activities among people with knee OA.

Start slowly.

Aim for 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic activity such as treadmill walking each week. It doesn’t have to be all in one spurt to count either. You can get on the treadmill for 10 minutes, three times a day, if that works better for you. Every little step counts. Wearable fitness trackers can help you get a better handle on how much exercise you are really getting each day.

Also, make sure you are familiar with the treadmill and all of its various safeguards before hopping on. Always know where the emergency stop is located and how to use it. Not all treadmills are created equally. Speak up if you have any questions.

Listen to your body.

If something hurts, step off the treadmill and get it checked out.

Cool down.

Cooling down is as important as warming up if you have knee OA. Cooling down can involve slowing down your pace at the tail end of your workout and flexibility exercises.

Set yourself up to win.

Exercise only works if you do it consistently. Look forward to your workouts by downloading some motivational tunes or queuing up Netflix to binge watch a new series. This will make the time go by much faster.

Reap the dividends.

Exercising regularly will do more than reduce your knee pain. It will give you more energy and improve your quality of life as well as help you lose weight (which puts less pressure on the knees), reduce stress and get a good night's sleep.

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The Knee Pain Diaries

Watch personal stories of how people cope with the pain of knee arthritis.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 21, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Fransen M, et al. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jan 9;1:CD004376. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004376.pub3.
  2. Arthritis of the Knee. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 
  3. Arthritis. Mayo Clinic.
  4. Bhatia D, et al. Current interventions in the management of knee osteoarthritis. Journal of Pharmacy And Bioallied Sciences. 2013 Jan-Mar;5(1):30-8.
  5. Shakoor N, et al. Improvement in Knee Loading After Use of Specialized Footwear for Knee Osteoarthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatism. 2013 May;65(5):1282-9. doi: 10.1002/art.37896.
  6. Arthritis and Exercise Beyond the Basics. UpToDate.
  7. Exercise and Arthritis. American College of Rheumatology.
  8. Deshpande BR, Katz JN, Solomon DH, et al. Number of Persons With Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis in the US: Impact of Race and Ethnicity, Age, Sex, and Obesity. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2016;68(12):1743-1750.

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