Fitness: Nordic Walking May Not be as Effective a Rehabilitation Exercise as Initially Thought

Fitness: Nordic Walking May Not be as Effective a Rehabilitation Exercise as Initially Thought

Dick Moss, Editor, PE

Nordic walking is an exercise in which walkers use adapted ski poles to increase the load on their arms and upper body and boost the number of calories burned.

There was another benefit to Nordic walking that was frequently reported. It was thought the poles reduced impact stress by reducing the load on the legs as the feet made contact with the ground.

As a result, the exercise has been advocated as an injury rehabilitation exercise for runners and walkers and as a way to reduce injury risk for overweight individuals who are beginning an exercise program.

However, a recent study has shown little difference in impact stress between Nordic walking and regular walking. And surprisingly, the exercise may produce a greater risk of knee injury than walking, or even running.

The Study
The study examined 15 male adults, all of whom were experienced Nordic walkers. The participants were studied while Nordic walking through the use of video and force plate measurements.

The study found no reduction in impact stress or joint loading when Nordic walking versus walking without poles. The reason for this was the fact that the poles are employed during the pushoff phase, not during initial contact with the ground. As a result, the poles' ability to cushion impact is minimized.

In fact, it was found that the loads on the knee joints increase during Nordic walking. That's because Nordic walkers tend to take longer strides than when walking without poles. Longer strides equal an extended knee joint and a higher sole angle at contact which increase a walker's risk of stressing the knee and ankle joints.

Nordic walking can be an excellent fitness activity but it shouldn't be recommended to students who must reduce the load on their knees and ankles when walking.

Students who enjoy Nordic walking but are concerned about their joints should focus on taking regular-length strides when walking. This will minimize the negative effects of over-striding that is common with Nordic walkers.

Reference: Felix Stief, Frank I. Kleindienst, Josef Wiemeyer, Florian Wedel, Sebastian Campe, and Berthold Krabbe, Inverse Dynamic Analysis of the Lower Extremities During Nordic Walking and Running." Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 2008, 24, 351-359.

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