Exercise is the best non-drug treatment for osteoarthritis, as I shared in my article How to Exercise with Osteoarthritis. There are many beneficial forms of exercise for people with osteoarthritis, but walking is one of the most versatile because it can be worked into our daily routine, we can control how much or how little we do, it can be done indoors or out and it has many health benefits.
For those of us suffering from knee or hip pain caused by osteoarthritis, the thought of walking can be daunting. Sometimes, it feels as though we expend all of our energy just getting through the day. It can be challenging getting through the necessities like taking a shower or preparing a meal. We may fear that exercise might make matters worse and in some cases, it can, such as walking on hills or when wearing the wrong shoes.
In most cases, however, walking is helpful. Devoted walkers usually experience more energy, better flexibility, deeper sleep, and less pain. For those who struggle with walking, pole walking (also known as Nordic walking) may be the perfect solution.
Nordic walking started in Finland in the early 1990s as a method of training for cross-country skiers during the summer months. Soon people realized the benefits of using poles to walk and it became popular with non-skiers too. There are many reasons to try walking with poles.
Why I’m trying it
Before I found out that I have osteoarthritis, I was walking 3-5 miles on most days and hiking as often as possible. I was looking forward to a summer hiking expedition and wanted to be in good shape. Things were going well, but I began having aches and pains that I couldn’t explain. After my diagnosis and because my symptoms worsened, I had to change my habits. Walking on hills, uneven trails, or hard concrete all caused more pain than pleasure. I began taking shorter, more gentle walks or using a treadmill for mini-workouts.
It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t getting enough exercise. The weight that I had lost over the summer started creeping back on and I missed the joy of immersing myself in nature. That’s when I began researching options for exercising with osteoarthritis. I’m excited to learn that there are options that can get me walking again! My hope is that using poles will enable me to go through with my hiking plans, even if I have to modify them to make them work. As I learn and experience success, I will share with you in hopes that you can enjoy life more too.
Advantages of walking with poles
- Improve balance and stability including on hills, trails, snow or ice
- Enhances walking by adding gentle upper-body movement, increasing cardiovascular benefits
- Aids in correcting posture which enables deeper breathing
- Using poles can reduce the impact on our knees by 25% and lessen stress on hips and lower back
- Strengthens muscles in the neck, back, and shoulder areas which helps to relieve osteoarthritis pain in those areas
- Uses more than 90% of body muscles and burns more calories than walking without poles
- Helpful before and after knee surgery
- Multiple uses: checking water depth, jabbing or moving objects on the trail, picking up trash, “sword” fighting with children
Here’s my first choice for walking poles
- Matched to your measurements and do not require adjusting
- The one-piece pole is safer because it will not collapse while you are walking
- Handle design promotes proper posture
- Two styles of tips: one for walking on a flat surface, another for rough terrain
- They do not fold or shorten so they are more difficult to use in public transportation
Another, more budget-friendly option
- Shock absorbing
- Collapsible, so they fit in a backpack
- Adjustable – one size fits all
- They come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee
- Secondary foam handles absorb moisture and add comfort
- Different tips for dirt, walkways or snow
- They come with a carrying bag
- Primary handles are hard rubber and become slippery when sweaty
- The straps are short and tend to fall off
- If they are not tight enough, they may shorten which can cause injury
- Not very sturdy
Exercising with poles reduces the stress on joints while strengthening muscles and improving balance and stability. For someone living with the constant pain or discomfort from osteoarthritis, they may be just the thing to take the fear and drudgery out of exercising and improve quality of life.
Have you ever used poles for walking? I would love to hear about your experience or your thoughts pertaining to pole walking. Please comment below.