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Phenomenon of Nordic Walking

A physical outdoor activity discovered in Finland has been recognised and accepted as an important step in maintaining good health among people in every age and around the globe.

Mark Kantaneva, father of modern NW, said “Nordic Walking is more extensive walking, where arms are used as the propulsion.” Marko Kantaneva agrees with health professionals that there are numerous benefits of NW. No one  denies its positive value  for health, including its rehabilitation aspect – which can be a sound addition to contemporary physiotherapy treatments.

As a Physiotherapist, I can see the value of active walking in rehabilitation. Firstly, the muscles of the upper body are activated significantly. Secondly, the lower limbs are not excessively exploited as happens during regular walking.  When you use the walking poles properly, they help your arms to carry some of your body weight.  In normal walk that force is applied on weight bearing joints causing overloading, mainly on knee joints, often very vulnerable to injuries.

This Finnish sport can be a remedy for a large number of individuals with a chronic condition.  However, the “four-on-the-floor” approach to walking give an opportunity to those with co-ordination and balance issues.  The base of support is increased by using of walking poles. Moreover, normal gait pattern and coordination is improved. According to Physiotherapist Hilary Jebson: “The poles facilitate a normal gait pattern with a heel strike and toe push-off, and pressing down on the base of the handle causes the core muscles to contract and encourages spinal extension.” Patients with multiple sclerosis, after spinal cord surgery and even those in the early stages of  Parkinson’s disease can definitely benefit from NW.

Most people with sedentary work suffer from neck and upper limbs pain, but regular training with NW reduces pain around neck and upper limbs. It also improves the flexibility of the cervical spinal cord and circulation in the chest. During NW, muscle activity is most intense in the biceps, triceps, posterior aspect of deltoideus, pectoralis major and latissimus dorsii (Mark Kantaneva).

Also worth mentioning is the effectiveness of NW in providing cardiovascular exercise. The upper body, in order to work harder, requires more respiratory and cardiac capacity. At the 20th Annual Meeting of  the Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation in Montreal (October 2010) it was shown that patients with moderate to severe heart failure (14%) improved functional status when assigned to Nordic pole walking versus more usual cardiac rehabilitation care. Finally, the European Society of Cardiology’s Heart Failure Congress in Belgrade (May 2012), presented that Nordic Walking enables a safe increase in exercise intensity and may be a more effective training method than walking without poles in patients with Heart Failure.

While  Nordic Walking is undoubtedly becoming a more and more popular recreational activity, it has a great potential as a leading form of  therapy in contemporary and complex rehabilitation.

Iwona Obroslak