Woman using Nordic walking sticks while passing a lake in the woods. Woman using Nordic walking sticks while passing a lake in the woods. Nordic pole walking is considered a recreational sport. (Photo: DR Travel Photo and Video / Shutterstock)

Walk like a Scandinavian: A new benefit of Nordic walking sticks

These poles are known for helping people burn more calories, but did you know they could also alleviate chronic pain?

If you think walking with a cane is just for the blind, the aged and the disabled, you might want to walk that back.

A new study reveals that walking sticks – specifically Nordic walking sticks, which are poles designed to help walkers burn more calories and improve their posture – can help ward off chronic pain as you age. The study was led by Dr. Donald Silverberg, a retired internal medicine and nephrology specialist at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel.

They're called Nordic walking sticks because they originated, and became very popular, in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. You can even take Nordic pole walking lessons, which is actually what got Silverberg interested in the topic in the first place.

Backpacker tourist happy man guy walking hiking desert stone mountain plateau ridge, traveling Negev Israel journey tourism destination.Walking sticks are growing in popularity around the world, including in Israel, where this hiker is traversing the Negev Desert. (Photo: Evgeny Subbotsky)

"I was given two modified ski poles (corrected for my height) and instructed in how to walk with them," said Silverberg, who's 77 and has long struggled to walk long distances because of back pain and stiffness. "Immediately I sensed something unexpected. I was waiting for my inevitable pains to kick in in my back, hips and knee – but nothing happened! ... Here I was standing straight up instead of bent over, walking quickly, and free of pain in my back, hips and knee. And not desperately looking for a place to sit down to relieve the inevitable pain. There was none to relieve."

traditional nordic walking sticksTraditional Nordic walking sticks include rubber hand grips and wrist straps for stability. (Photo: Voyagerix/Shutterstock)

That feeling of relief prompted Silverberg to expand his personal results to the lab. He examined 100 people over the age of 60 who had a history of lower-back, hip or knee pain. They were instructed to use the poles for 12 weeks. After that, Silverberg examined them again.

All told, 91 of the subjects (nine dropped out) showed remarkable improvement in their pain. As a bonus, many of them also improved their walking distance, and although they burned more calories, they did not feel that they were working harder.

"Despite this greater energy expenditure due to the extra exertion in (Nordic pole walking), the individual, surprisingly, usually does not experience any additional feelings of increased exertion," Silverberg wrote.

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