Is Nordic Walking Good For Arthritis? What’s the verdict of Science?

Is Nordic Walking Good For Arthritis?

We all crave for a good walk, doesn’t matter which season or weather it is. The beautiful landscapes, friends and the joy of hiking camps are the appetizers that make you even more hungry for a good walk and venture. Suddenly, it gets gloomy and grim when you or your loved one has arthritis, especially the osteoarthritis of ankles, hips and knees.

Even on plain terrain, you can’t enjoy the walk with pain and stiffness in the joints. But what, if you are given two poles and this venture of walking becomes your healthy activity and evenly enjoyable? Hang on, as we are going to discuss this in detail and will answer ‘‘is nordic walking good for arthritis?’’.

Nordic walking came under the light in the late 1930s in Finland for cross-country skiers.  It was meant to train out of season. Nordic walking is aerobic walking done by the help of specially designed sticks/ trekking poles. What they did was that during a session, you use peculiar walking poles to shift off the weight of your lower body compartment to help you in balance and feel lighter.

It would help you to accelerate the speed and execute the full-body workout with more joy and thrill. After a few decades, it has become a smart way for people to convert a simple walk into a more effective and healthy exercise. 

A study by The Cooper Institute in Dallas suggested that Nordic walking consumes about 20% more calories and utilises more oxygen than a regular walk, without any stress of hard or tough exercise.

Furthermore, a study of fibromyalgia patients found that Nordic walking helped improve physical function more than a lower-intensity walking program. “For people with joint injuries in their lower bodies or lower back, trekking poles can help absorb some of the landing impacts with each step, particularly when going downhill,” says Martica Heaner, PhD, a training physiologist, nutritionist and accredited Nordic walking tutor in New York City. The nordic walking poles help to keep the body upright and symmetrical, improving balance, Heaner says. (Source: Arthritis Foundation)

Is Nordic Walking Good For Arthritis
Image from Pikrepo

Is Nordic Walking Good For Arthritis?

What is Arthritis?

First, we need to understand arthritis; then we will be able to pick up the science of nordic walking that helps in arthritis. 

Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more lining of synovial joints which leads to constant pain, stiffness and inflammation and is associated with the growing disability. The mechanism behind this is when a body immune system attacks the cartilage of the joints and leads to wear and tear of the joint bones. 

Arthritis is an autoimmune disease usually caused by a genetic factor, and sometimes it may be an environmental factor as well.  In patients with arthritis of lower limbs (body compartment), walking and lifting load can be very painful and hectic activity. The more you walk, the frequent friction in the joint releases pain-inducing chemicals (secondary mediators). In this scenario, we look for an opportunity or a technique to make these joints feel lighter and nordic walking is the best possible technique to deal with it.  

The Science behind Nordic Walking

The Biomechanics involved in nordic walking is quite simple. The trekking poles on landing the ground take off the body weight from lower limbs and transfer it to the poles bases and upper limbs. This shift of load decreases the burden and joint compression in the lower body limbs, hence reducing the pain and joint inflammation in arthritis patients. The Nordic walking poles give assistance and stability, leaving your joints with comparatively less stress. This is aerobic training which is usually great for mounting the upper body and equally great for supporting your hips and joints that allows the chronic arthritis patients to go on a Nordic walking walk with a pair of reliable Nordic walking poles. 

There have been numerous studies focussing on nordic walking and its biomechanics. Till now, nothing is established as absolute value when it comes to the reduction of load and joint compression, but overall results are quite similar in terms of decrease labour, pain and stiffness in the osteoarthritis of knees, ankles and lumbar area joints.  

Equipment for an arthritis patient for nordic walking

Nordic walking needs a pair of poles and nice shoes. But that’s a general rule. In the case of arthritis, you need a comfortable pair of shoes (good shock-absorbing sole), a specially designed stick/ pole with shock-absorbing tips, and gloves that make the grip more strong and equally comfortable. It is essential to consider all these gears to get the maximum joy out of your venture and avoid any injury or joint pain. 

Nordic walking Benefits in Body’s balance and Arthritis

During various studies, when NW was compared with a regular walk, the body responded more pleasantly in NW with the help of a pair of poles. The phenomenon of taking the weight off the lower limbs/joints was highly rated as one of the benefits that arthritis patients can capitalize on. Some of the critical gains and benefits of nordic walking are as under:

  • Takes the stress and pressure off the joints
  • Gives a better stance and more balance  to the body
  • It helps the built-up of muscle around the knees and keeps them stronger
  • Minimizes the friction of synovial lining and hence decreasing the pain
  •  It distributes the weight on all the X and Y dimensions of the body 
  • NW helps athletes who are recovering from knee injuries and surgery
  • It makes the upper body muscles more strong and athletic

Other benefits of NW (excluding arthritis patients)

There are other health-related benefits of nordic walking, such as;

  • 40-46% of additional consumption of oxygen compared to normal walking 
  • Caloric consumption increased at 20% which is 400/hr compared to 280 
  • Heart rate increases by 7-10 beats per 60 seconds
  • Boost energy level
  • Build muscle strength and flexibility
  • The decrease in body mass
  • A decline in blood pressure
  • Decrease in bad (LDL and total) cholesterol
  • A lessening in blood sugar levels
  • Reducing down of ageing in elders
  • Increase metabolic rate and muscle growth in youngsters
  • Improvement in exercise endurance
  • Rise in good (HDL) cholesterol
  • Improvement in insulin sensitivity

Why Nordic walking for arthritis patients? 

There are many drills and techniques to help the individuals suffering from arthritis, but the key advantages of NW over other techniques are as under;

Easy and accessible 

This is the main reason for the popularity of nordic walking. All you need for NW are a pair of poles and comfortable shoes. No gym, no membership, no specialized training. Moreover, you don’t need a particular landscape or terrains to go out; you can execute whenever and wherever you are. It is a very versatile and easily accessible sport which makes it even more prevalent in people of all ages and groups. 

Complete workout

It is a complete sport when compared to regular walking. NW brings all the benefits on the table such as muscle tone, muscle strength, joints comfort, increased metabolic rate, increased calories consumption, cardiovascular endurance, posture and body’s balance. It brings incredible results when done regularly. 

Joints are more secured and safe

It’s a kind of aerobic activity that makes you feel lighter instead of pushing hard yard stress on your knees. The body weight is distributed on four points and takes away all the load from lower limbs to the poles and upper body limbs. This helps arthritis patients in executing the walking venture more securely and equally enjoyable. 

8 tips for a better Nordic walking experience 

Yes, nordic walking is very good for arthritis – that being answered, comes the next part of the execution. Here are the 8 tips that you should take into consideration before planning a nordic walking venture. 

  1. If you are having arthritis in your hands, make sure the sticks you are going to use have an ergonomic and soft grip that will allow you to have a comfortable grip. 
  1. Height – Do consider your height and the right pair of poles that can match your height requirements. To simplify this tip, when you are holding the stick, your elbow should lie at the 90-degree angles. However, there are sticks/poles that are adjustable to height. 
  1. Ideally speaking, your poles should have both metal and rubber tips. In most of the cases, you get only rubber tips which can be a setback at times. When you are having a walk on grass or dirt terrain, you need metal tips to hold the ground with better force and posture. On the other hand, terrains like asphalt suit rubber tips.
  1. Buy poles with better straps and use the straps accordingly. Your hands should make a firm lock-key grip with the straps to avoid slip off. 
  1. Try this! Move your pole with the opposite foot. What will this do? It will provide more balance and natural posturing to the arm and pole swing. Nonetheless, you can move it with the same foot which will support the legs in a better way. What suits you? 
  1. In case if you have arthritis of shoulders joints, the farther the plant is from your pole, more will be the support from the point. While normally, you have to plant the stick next to the foot and push on the poles as you step that provides the forward thrust and better posture.
  1. It is always beneficial to join a group of enthusiasts and people in your community who are interested in nordic walking. This will help you to maintain a regular routine and get the necessary guidance as well. 
  1. Complete set of gears i.e gloves, shoes and poles will set you more willing for the daily venture and there will be fewer chances of injury or setbacks. In case of lower limbs arthritis, make sure the poles and shoes are properly equipped with the shock-absorbing feature. 

Conclusion

Nordic walking is a healthy activity, invented back in 1930. The overnight fame and popularity of nordic walking explored many aspects of it. One of the many advantages of NW is it’s support and positive results in arthritis patients. The stress from the lower extremities gets off the joints to the poles and upper limbs, which ultimately reduces the pain and stiffness of the joints. Is nordic walking good for arthritis? Yes, it is beneficial in reducing the pain and inflammation of the joints, especially in osteoarthritis of knees, hips and ankles. 

Wish you good luck with your ventures and workout. 

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