Two men walk on a golf course with golf bags.
Golfers with knee osteoarthritis do not need to be concerned about worsening their disease by walking the course. In fact, walking provides the best health benefit. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Golfers with knee arthritis should park the golf cart and walk the links instead, researchers say.

While using a golf cart may seem the obvious choice for golfers with knee problems, a new small study finds that walking provides much greater health benefits. Moreover, it’s not associated with increased pain, inflammation or cartilage breakdown, the researchers said.

“Individuals with knee osteoarthritis are often concerned about pain and may be more likely to use a golf cart,” said lead study author Dr. Prakash Jayabalan. He’s an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

However, “this study has shown that golfers with knee osteoarthritis do not need to be concerned about worsening their disease through walking the course. In fact, walking provides the best health benefit,” Jayabalan said in a university news release.


Our Take

A body in motion has the tendency to stay in motion.

Jason Lazor, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group orthopedic sports medicine physician, finds this statement to be true when it comes to all stages of osteoarthritis.

“The majority of patients will even say that once they get up and get going, the knee will loosen up and feel better,” he said.

“An exercise prescription is part of my first-line treatment when patients come to me with the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis, however, they are often misled by the notion that exercise will worsen their osteoarthritis.”

Dr. Lazor said high-quality evidence shows the value of low-impact exercise, such as walking, decreases arthritis pain and can also be important in weight control. He often suggests patients incorporate exercise into their daily routine, and golfers don’t mind being told to get out on the course.

“Some patients choose to even walk half the course,” he said. “The important thing to remember is to keep moving.”

More than 17 million Americans older than 50 golf regularly. Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in this age group. The condition causes swelling, pain and difficulty moving the joint.

The study included 10 older golfers with knee osteoarthritis and five without the disease, which is usually caused by wear and tear of the joint.

Think golf is an easy sport on the body? Guess again!

On one day, the study participants played one round of golf (18 holes) walking the course. On another day, they used a golf cart to play 18 holes. On each occasion, the researchers monitored the participants’ heart rates to determine their level of exercise intensity, and took blood samples to measure markers of knee inflammation and cartilage stress.

On both occasions, the golfers had an increase in these markers, but there was no difference between use of the golf cart and walking, the findings showed.

When walking the course, the heart rates of the golfers with knee problems were in the moderate-intensity zone for more than 60 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent when using a cart.

But even using the cart, golfers met daily exercise recommendations, according to the study authors.

“Bottom line: walking the course is significantly better than using a golf cart, but using a golf cart is still better than not exercising at all,” Jayabalan concluded.

The study was presented recently at the Osteoarthritis Research Society International annual meeting in Liverpool, England. Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.