If it hurts when you walk, figuring out the problem and treating your pain is essential to maintaining your cardio walking routine. Walking involves your whole body, and pain in your ankle, foot, lower back or shin can all make it hard to get the steps that you need for health and fitness.
Fortunately, walking is one of the lowest impact forms of exercise that you can do, so you’re already minimizing stress on your joints. In fact, it’s often recommended for people recovering from injuries, or people just starting a journey to shed some extra weight. It’s normal for people to experience some aches and pains when starting a walking routine or increasing their step count.
These common causes of back, shin, foot and calf pain might be interfering with your steps. Here’s how to treat them!*
*Important note: If you’re experiencing new pain, or if you’ve experienced an acute injury (like a sprained ankle), make sure to consult your doctor! The best way to get more steps is to correctly diagnose an injury so that you can treat it and recover fully. Keep in mind that these tips are not intended to diagnose or treat any injuries, but are general advice for minor issues!
Is Your Walking Routine to Blame for Pain?
Was everything going perfectly well until you started to notice a little ache – a little pain that wasn’t there before? Although you’d hate to blame the beloved walking routine that has benefited you tremendously thus far, you could be dealing with something that can prevent you from getting steps in the future. Don’t get discouraged! Dealing with minor aches and pains from walking is a common occurrence and can be remedied with simple and affordable solutions. Resting and healing up will keep you hitting the trails and getting your steps.
Remember that pain is your body’s way to tell you that there’s something wrong. It’s tempting to ignore pain, or use pain medication to block it out, but this is usually a mistake! It’s important to intervene before a minor injury becomes a major one. You’re almost always better off treating an injury by resting, consulting a doctor and fixing issues with correct supporting gear and better posture.
Common Walking Injuries and Remedies
Discomfort in the lower back or lumbar region is often caused by bad posture or overuse. Back injuries can cause major issues if left untreated. If you’re experiencing persistent back pain it’s important to get evaluated by a doctor to ensure you don’t have more serious issues.
When increasing your activity level, speed and distance walked, make sure to do so gradually. Pay attention to your posture as you walk and ensure that you are not slouching but standing straight up. WebMD recommends keeping your ears, shoulders and hips aligned while walking. Avoid looking down, but try to keep your chin level and your eyes forward and looking ahead. During your walking routine, take frequent breaks to stretch your back and change your overall body position.
The longer you walk, the more likely you’ll get tired and your posture will slack. Try to take notice of your posture at various points during your walk, to identify how long you can walk maintaining a good posture. More steps are great, but walking with bad posture is a recipe for injury. If you can’t maintain good posture for long walks, consider breaking up your walks into shorter chunks, or taking a break around the time your posture starts to slide.
Even though you may feel that walking is what brought on your aches and pains, the best thing you can do is to ensure that you stay active. Applying a heating pad to the area affected can help increase blood flow and make your back feel better. Decreasing your walking intensity for a day or two to see if it helps make your back feel better. Ensure that you can walk with correct posture for the duration of your walk. If your doctor finds that your back is ok, you can also consider exercises like yoga or light stretching to increase strength and flexibility. Here are some additional tips from the Mayo Clinic.
The shin is the long bone that runs along the front of your lower leg. Shin splints are soreness or swelling along your shin which is usually more painful when walking or standing. This occurs from repeated stress to the area which could occur with an increased intensity of a workout routine. It can affect both the shin bone, and the muscles and tissues around it. Walking on hard surfaces like concrete can increase stress on your shins. Wearing worn-out or improper shoes can also increase stress on this are.
Make sure that you wear shoes that have good arch support and are shock absorbent. Remember that walking shoes and running shoes are different, and walking in work or formal shoes can be tough on your feet AND shins. The Mayo Clinic recommends adding strength training to your routine, focusing on your lower body. You can also try walking on softer terrain, like grass or dirt if you have a park nearby, or on a treadmill if you have access to it.
If you do suffer from this uncomfortable affliction, icing the area and rest should get you back on your feet in no time. Healthline also recommends wearing a compression sleeve on your calf/shin area to support it and increase blood flow.
If you suffer from persistent shin splints, make sure to see a doctor. They can help to ensure you’re not suffering from a more serious injury like a stress fracture that may require more extensive treatment.
Plantar Fasciitis results in stabbing heel pain that commonly occurs after your activity is finished and not usually during it. It is caused by inflammation of the band of tissue or ligament (plantar fascia) that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes. Having low or high arches of your feet (and wearing shoes that don’t compensate for this) can cause this type of injury.
Choose footwear that has a low heel but with good arch support. If you have low or especially high arches, try to find shoes or shoe inserts/insoles that compensate for this. Ideally, consult a podiatrist to get the best-fitted inserts or shoes that you can. Higher impact exercise, like jogging, can increase risks of plantar fasciitis. If you’ve started a jogging routine, try to ease back for a while so your foot can heal.
The Mayo Clinic suggests the following: Try ice massage which is freezing a water-filled paper cup and then rolling this against the affected area for 5-7 minutes. Ice compresses are also effective applied several times a day. Just be sure to wrap the compress in a protective barrier such as a thin dishtowel or pillowcase so that the cold will not burn your skin.
Mayo Clinic also recommends practicing arch stretches. You can also take over the counter pain relievers if not contraindicated by your physician.
Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the largest tendon in the body (your Achilles tendon) that runs along the back of your lower leg and connects to the heel. Tendinitis usually results from overuse or repetitive use. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Achilles Tendinitis can occur in response to a sudden increase in exercise duration or intensity. Tendinitis can also happen if your calf muscles are too tight or because of bone spurs where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel.
Symptoms include swelling, pain or stiffness along the Achilles tendon (along the back of the lower leg down into the heel). Tendinitis is usually a long-term injury. Be sure to see a doctor if you feel a sudden pain in your Achilles – especially if you hear or feel a pop in the back of your leg or heel. This could mean that the tendon has ruptured, which is a very severe injury that requires immediate medical attention.
Again, wearing well-fitting shoes is essential. Make sure that your shoes have adequate heel and arch support, which can prevent injuries. Tendinitis can occur because of repetitive strain on the same area, so try to vary your exercise routine so that you’re not always doing the same thing.
Icing and rest are helpful in the initial phases of an injury. Make sure that as you increase your activity level, you do so gradually so your body has a chance to adjust.
If you’re getting pain while walking, try working in some activities that don’t stress your heel. Swimming, cycling (including stationary bikes) or other activities can keep you active while resting your Achilles. Once you feel better, you can get back to walking as your main activity.
Stretch your heel and Achilles area daily, but make sure to do so slowly and warm up so that you don’t suddenly stress the tendon. Strengthening your calf can also improve the overall strength of the muscle that surrounds your Achilles, which can be beneficial.
Keep on your feet and on track
Most aches and pains will resolve themselves after a warm bath and a good night’s rest. If you do suffer from persistent aches and pains, however, it is always a good idea to see your doctor. Your doctor can help prevent minor injuries from becoming major ones and can diagnose and treat your specific problem.
The best preventative actions you can take often have to do with your pre-workout routine. Make sure that you warm up by moving around and getting your blood flowing before a workout. A good pair of walking shoes, with proper arch and heel support, make your feet feel great and can prevent many common walking injuries. Also make sure your footwear is in good condition, replacing your shoes on a regular basis if they get worn out. If you’re a serious walker, consider buying an extra pair (or two) on major discount events like Black Friday so that you have a fresh pair available when you need it.
Your walking routine gives you great health benefits both now and into the future. Keep active in that routine by investing a little time and effort into learning about and preventing common injuries. Being proactive about avoiding injuries help you stay on the path to a fit and healthy life!
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