Going for a long walk or joining a dance class may be that last thing someone with knee pain would want to do, but two new studies have found that both activities can significantly reduce pain and improve mobility.
The first study, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, looked at the effects of daily walking on nearly 1,800 elderly patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA). Researchers found that walking 6,000 steps or more each day may protect OA patients from developing mobility issues, such as difficulty climbing a stairs or getting up from a chair.
“Walking is an inexpensive activity and despite the common popular goal of walking 10,000 steps per day, our study finds only 6,000 steps are necessary to realize benefits,” said Daniel White, a physical therapist at Sargent College at Boston University in Massachusetts.
“We encourage those with or at risk of knee OA to walk at least 3,000 or more steps each day, and ultimately progress to 6,000 steps daily to minimize the risk of developing difficulty with mobility.”
Patients in the study wore a pedometer to measure the number of steps they took each day. Researchers found that their mobility improved by 18% for each additional 1,000 steps they took.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and affects more than 27 million Americans and over 100 million people worldwide. OA is a chronic degenerative joint disease that causes pain and swelling of joints in the hand, hips, or knee. OA of the knee is more prevalent in women and the obese – and is the leading cause of functional limitation among older adults.
While the health benefits of walking are fairly well known, about two-thirds of U.S. adults with arthritis walk less than 90 minutes each week. And less than one-third of primary-care physicians recommend exercise to their patients with OA.
Older adults with hip or knee pain may also find relief by dancing, according to a small Saint Louis University study that was published in the journal Geriatric Nursing.
“After dancing over several months they reported less pain and were able to walk faster,” said Jean Krampe, PhD, an assistant professor of nursing at Saint Louis University and lead author of the article.
The findings are significant because older adults who walk slowly are more likely to fall, become hospitalized or require care from others.
“Doctors and nurses recognize gait speed as the sixth vital sign that can help us predict adverse outcomes for older adults,” Krampe said.
“Walking just a little more rapidly can make enough of a difference for a person to get across the street more quickly or get to the bathroom faster, which keeps them functional and independent.”
Krampe and her colleagues at Saint Louis University conducted the 12-week study with 34 residents of a senior citizen apartment complex, who were mostly women with an average age of 80. All said they had pain or stiffness in their knees or hips, in most cases caused by arthritis.
Researchers divided the participants into two groups. Nineteen volunteers were in a group that used Healthy Steps, a low impact aerobic activity that is slow and rhythmic, and can be done sitting or standing. They danced for 45 minutes up to two times a week.
The other 15 participants did not receive dance therapy, but engaged in other physical activities.
“Those in the dance group talked about how much they loved it. It’s exercise, but it’s fun,” Krampe said. “This is not surprising because those in our study are from a generation that loved dancing.”
In addition to having less pain, study participants who danced reported that they reduced their consumption of pain medicine by 39 percent. Those who didn’t dance said they took 21% more pain medication.
A recent study published in JAMA found thatcombination of diet and exercise is more effective than medication is in reducing pain in overweight patients who suffer from knee OA.
Nearly 40 percent of the patients enrolled in an intensive weight loss and exercise program had little or no knee pain after 18 months. They also had better mobility, joint function and quality of life.