Walking vs. elliptical exercise for joint pain

April 21, 2014 by shahzaib15780

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.

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