The debate has been raging for some time: is walking or running better than an elliptical machine? And what does “better” mean, anyway?

As it happens, some talented physicians, technicians and orthopedic specialists have looked at the respective motions and benefits of both forms of exercise, and a few clear answers have emerged.

First things first: the calorie question seems to be a wash. That is to say that it takes roughly the same energy to propel your body forward no matter how you’re moving.  My advice is “Just move!”  and do what you like (by that, I mean exercise the way you enjoy to exercise).  Some feel better on a treadmill.  Some feel better in a spin class.  Some feel better running on the open road.  At the end of the day, the more you move the more calories you burn.  So, obviously you must walk longer or farther to make up for the slower pace, when compared to jogging.


But the larger questions surrounding musculoskeletal health get a bit trickier. Yes, ellipticals offer a more robust workout for your thighs and buttocks, while running offers a better workout for your calves. But for orthopedic surgeons such as myself, the real question is about joint pain. And here, the winner is clear:

According to a study published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, walking causes 112 percent of someone’s body weight to strike the ground with every step, while only 73 percent does in elliptical training. This slighter jarring is an advantage for people with sore joints, but less so for those who hope that exercise will improve bone health.

In summary, while elliptical training is less ‘traumatic’ to joints, it does less to prevent osteoporosis (bone thinning).

And there it is. Sore joints such as knees and ankles are more likely to worsen by running on concrete, whereas joints are less likely to become inflamed on the comparatively smooth trajectory of an elliptical machine.  But I would recommend you do what you like, because that is what is gonna get you out to do it again.  And that is the best form of exercise.


Do you want to learn more about how you can prevent joint pain and head off the need for knee surgery? Please contact my San Diego orthopedic surgery offices to set up an appointment today.


Much has been said about whether running has net beneficial or detrimental effects on an athlete.  The cardiovascular upside on overall health is clear cut.  But what about all that trauma that a runner’s knees must endure with each step slamming into the pavement?

Protecting your knees and back while running is a battle that must be fought on several simultaneous fronts.  Simple strategies such as proper shoe maintenance and alternating exercise regimens are simple ways to avoid foot and ankle injuries that are commonly seen in runners.  When it comes to the knees and low back, a well-conceived functional strengthening program can help avoid injury.  The concept is very similar to what any recreational athlete feels at the end of a long day skiing.  Most injuries in skiing tend to occur at the end of the day when our muscles are fatigued and less apt to allow us to recover from some perturbation/fall.  Basically, tired muscles have difficulty protecting us from injury when compared to muscles that are better conditioned.  The core muscles are at the ‘core’ of injury prevention with respect to the knee and low back.  The core muscles help to shock-absorb and avoid injuries to the adjacent joints.

This list offers a nice starting point for strengthening.  It features some simple exercises to keep your core, back, hips and shoulders in reasonably loose and powerful form.

Still suffering from knee pain, hip pain, back pain or shoulder pain? Visit my San Diego orthopedic surgery practice to learn more about how you can achieve lasting health without losing a step.

© 2023 Dr. Robert Afra – San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Shoulder – Knee – Elbow