Can Walking Be Bad for Your Knees?

woman doing sports outdoors
In certain circumstances, walking can harm your knees. (Image: dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images)

Walking is a form of aerobic exercise that can provide you with a variety of health benefits, including easier weight management and reductions in your levels of harmful cholesterol. It is typically considered a safe, low-impact activity. However, in some circumstances, walking can trigger the onset of significant pain in your knees.

Overpronation

One potential source of walking-related knee problems is overpronation of your feet. This condition occurs when you roll your feet after placing them in contact with the ground, then continue this rolling motion instead of cleanly pushing off and propelling yourself forward. The rolling motion associated with overpronation can cause a painful twisting in your knees, as well as in your feet and shins. Overpronation can also wear out the inside edges of your shoes and increase your tendency to improperly twist your knees and lower legs.

Other Potential Problems

You can hurt your knees if you walk on an extremely hard surface like concrete, walk up and down hills or walk on a surface with a sideways tilt or angle. If you are overweight, the downward pressure on your knees while walking can stress out your joints and increase your risks for a form of wear-and-tear arthritis called osteoarthritis. You can also injure your knees if you have poor muscle strength or flexibility and can’t absorb the stress that walking and other physical activities put on your knee joints.

Reducing Your Risks

You can take several steps to reduce any walking-related knee problems. If you overpronate, you can wear shoes or shoe inserts that prevent excessive foot rolling. If you’re overweight, you can gradually work your way toward a healthy body weight. To improve your muscle strength and flexibility, you can perform additional low-impact exercises that complement your walking program. You can also begin any new walking program gradually and increase your activity slowly over time.

Examples and Considerations

The most suitable surfaces for walking include grass, dirt, wood chips and a cinder track. In addition to concrete, surfaces or substances that can cause you problems include snow and sand. Potential flexibility exercises for your knees include quadriceps and hamstring stretches, calf stretches and stretches for your lower back and the backs of your knees. Strengthening options for your knees include straight- and bent-leg raises, wall squats or sits, hamstring curls and single-leg dips. You can also strengthen your knees with a series of exercises called the knee stabilization series.

If you develop knee pain while walking, stop your activity and consult your doctor for advice. Always work within your current physical capabilities and avoid over-stressing your knees or any other part of your body.

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