Exercise helps to maintain healthy joints. It can ease pain and improve mobility, but it also has the potential to cause pain. Where do you draw the line?
For months, I would wake up at 8 am, and my partner and I would throw on a tracksuit and head out for an intense walk around the neighborhood. We’d typically be out for an hour. But before I knew it, I was out there alone.
She’s recently jumped back in. But there’s a problem: after only a couple of sessions, she’s feeling pain in her knee.
To keep joints pain free and limit the risk of injury, pacing is essential. She went hard on her first walk back (which we did not do together), going at a high pace for about an hour after doing nothing more than occasional leisurely walks for months.
The next day, she went for 90-minutes. That afternoon she was sore with knee pain.
When feeling motivated, it’s very easy to let adrenaline carry you through a workout. But more is not necessarily better for the untrained body. In fact, it can be harmful.
Placing a high amount of foreign stress on your joints can spell disaster. If you’re not ready for the new demands, your risk for injury goes way up.
Instead, take baby steps. An incremental approach can let your body adapt to reduce the risk of injury. Before long, you’ll be right where you want to be, and your body’s capabilities will be right there to handle it.
In my partner’s case, she should have created a schedule. Starting with 20 minutes at a moderate pace would have been an excellent place to start. After a few days, bumping that up to 30-minutes would have helped her ease in.
Adding an additional 10-minutes every few days would have allowed her body to be more prepared for the challenge.
Once she’d hit her target time, she could begin to manipulate intensity. Going for 30-40 minutes at an intense pace would be the next logical step, once again working to extend her time over the next series of weeks. As intensity increases, boosting time increments will take a bit longer. Both are modifiable factors that should be done one at a time.
With intensity increases, it’s also recommended to include rest days. So, going for an intense walk on Monday could be followed up with a shorter, more leisurely walk on Tuesday, before repeating the cycle on Wednesday and Thursday.
Of course, there are several factors that can influence joint pain from exercise: gait, technique, and footwear are just a few of them. But generally speaking, exercise can improve joint pain and increase flexibility and strength. Just ease into it.