How Water Walking Can Help Your Joint Pain
Water walking is a form of exercise that you can do in a pool that can help relieve your joint pain while strengthening your muscles. It is a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training. Even if your joints hurt, exercise is essential to help strengthen your muscles to avoid muscle atrophy (if you don’t use it, you lose it). You can also incorporate water walking if you are nursing an injury. It will be much less taxing on your body than exercising out of the water. Water walking is also a great exercise during the summer when outside temperatures are scorching.
What is water walking?
Walking in water is a great low-impact form of exercise that you can do in virtually any body of water! If you have a pool at home or you’re on vacation at the beach, you can incorporate water walking into your exercise routine. The deeper you get into the water, the less pressure gravity puts on the discs in your back. The discs are the shock absorbers of your spine. Getting into the water takes the pressure off the discs. If you’re looking for more resistance, water walking in chest-deep water will provide a more rigorous workout.
Not only does brisk water walking strengthen your muscles, but it also provides a form of aerobic exercise. This exercise will increase your heart rate, allowing you to burn calories and increase blood circulation.
How do you walk in the water?
You can begin at any intensity level–the choice is yours! Start in water that is at least waist-deep, based on your fitness level and condition–the deeper the water, the more water resistance but, the less pressure on your discs. Walk the width of the pool, back and forth.
Here is a simple routine to get you started:
- Start with a slow 5-minute walk for the first week. You can work up to the five minutes if necessary. Take a minute or two to rest and catch your breath. Don’t worry about speed at this point.
- Once you feel comfortable walking for 5 minutes, try gradually increasing the duration of your walk and gradually increase your speed over several weeks.
- Work up to 20-30 minutes per session, increasing your speed each week as you feel comfortable. Ultimately, you’ll be walking briskly in the water while minimizing the impact on your discs and joints.
- At the end of your walking session, be sure to do a cool down and a few stretches to bring your heart rate back to where it was when you started.
Posture for water walking
Proper position is essential when water walking because you are using your entire body to move through the water. Your core being at the center is the most important to keep upright and tightened as you walk. The Arthritis Foundation offers a simple technique to ensure proper posture:
- Stand upright, with shoulders back, chest lifted and arms bent slightly at your sides.
- Slowly stride forward, placing your whole foot on the bottom of the pool (instead of just your tiptoes), with your heel coming down first, then the ball of your foot.
- If you add your arms into the workout, you can push them through the water starting in front of you and pushing the water to the sides.
- Avoid leaning forward by keeping your core (stomach and back) muscles engaged as you walk.
- Try varying the movements by walking side-to-side and backward.
Benefits of water walking
Like all water exercises, there are many benefits to water walking. The resistance of the water provides the muscles with balanced strengthening and toning. Water offers ten times more resistance than air. The leg muscles that you use when walking on land are the same ones you use in the water, without the joint impacts. If you move your arms through the water as you’re walking, you’re toning those muscles too.
Here are more benefits of water walking:
- Builds and tones muscle in your legs and arms
- Reduces joint pain
- Strengthens your core
- Strengthens your heart through cardiovascular stimulation
- Corrects muscle imbalances
- Burns calories and fat
- Can aid in weight loss over time.
What equipment do you need for water walking?
Water walking is an easy form of exercise, and you do not have to buy any special gear. You don’t need any special swimming skills either. All you need is a swimsuit and a body of water to get started!
Here are a few extras you may want to consider adding to your routine at some point:
- Water shoes- not imperative, but they may prevent additional impact to your joints, prevent you from slipping in the pool, and protect the bottom of your feet. Water shoes are a good idea if you are predisposed to certain conditions in the feet like heel spurs or plantar fasciitis. If you’re not familiar with plantar fasciitis, you can read our post about that here.
- Webbed paddle gloves- this is a variation on the traditional water walking technique and provides additional resistance for your arms.
- Flotation belt- this is only necessary if you’re in deep water where your feet do not touch the bottom. This belt will keep you afloat at the shoulders or waist while you continue to walk without your feet touching the bottom of the pool.
More tips for water walking
- You can seek out a water walking (or water running) class to learn the basics. Most municipalities or fitness locations offer classes. A class will help you better understand the best techniques and form.
- If you’re in an outdoor pool, wear sun protection. Read our article about the ingredients to avoid in sunscreen here.
- Make sure you stay hydrated. Even if you’re not sweating, your body is still burning calories and needs to be hydrated.
- Have fun! You may not even realize you’re exercising with this easy and fun fitness outlet.
- As with any exercise program, make sure you consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise routine.
Take your fitness routine to the pool and beat joint pain!