How to overcome muscle pain and soreness from walking

It’s common to experience sore muscles after walking for fitness, but most minor muscle pain and stiffness can be overcome by rest and at-home remedies. Soreness often comes after increasing your activity level, but one long or intense walk can be enough to trigger sore muscles. While soreness may be a sign that you’re walking too much and need to cut back, it could also be a sign that you’re not using proper form or not getting enough rest. It’s important to deal with soreness promptly so you can get back to walking and prevent more serious injuries in the future.

Find out why you sometimes get sore several hours after walking, ways to treat minor pain, and how to reduce your risk of soreness in the future.

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Important Note: If you feel new or intense pain from walking, or if you suffer acute pain from a sudden injury, make sure to see a doctor immediately. When in doubt, get checked out!

Why Am I Sore After Walking?

Man holding sore back after exercise
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Walking is a low-impact exercise, but it’s not a no-impact exercise. You may be surprised to feel soreness or stiffness following a walk, especially if you weren’t walking particularly fast. Don’t forget that in addition to being a great cardio workout, walking activates number of muscles in your legs, core, and even your arms. All of those muscles can get sore and related joints can become stiff from walking. Sometimes you don’t feel the soreness right away. It might take a few days of accumulated heavy walking for you to feel sore. For others, the soreness may not be apparent until you wake up stiff the next day.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a term that describes soreness from exercise that you don’t feel right away. This soreness is shared amongst beginner exercise enthusiasts and elite athletes alike, but it’s more commonly associated with exercises like weight lifting or strength training. While feeling sore the next day may be worrying, it is common whenever an individual has suddenly increased their level of activity. Soreness doesn’t just happen to beginners – even experienced walkers can feel unexpectedly sore if they increase their steps, change their program, or even just fail to get the proper rest.

If you do experience soreness during a walk, it’s important to stop and cut your walk short for the day. Pain is one of the ways your body tells you that something is wrong and you need to stop doing what you’re doing.

What Can I Do to Help With Soreness After Walking?

It can be alarming and a scary feeling to wake up with soreness after a long day of walking. While your initial instinct might be to stop all walking until you feel completely recovered, it’s often a good idea to implement an active recovery plan to keep you moving while dealing with your minor aches and pains. Active recovery means to remain active at a lower level of intensity to help your muscles recover faster by keeping moving and ensuring blood flow to the sore areas. While complete rest and inactivity may be required for serious injuries, if you stop moving completely you may find yourself feeling stiff and have trouble getting back into walking when you’re feeling better.

Treat the Minor Pain & Soreness

Woman foam rolling a sore back on yoga mat
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There are several techniques you can implement at home to alleviate minor pain or soreness. Taking the time to target and treat your sore muscles will help you recover quicker and get you back to your walking regimen sooner rather than later.

Techniques you can use to treat minor aches, pain, and soreness from walking include:

  • Hot/Cold Therapy — Both heat and ice on a sore and injured area may be effective in alleviating pain and helping you to recover. Some people swear by icing sore muscles, while others insist heat is the only way to go. Trial and error will help you figure out what works best for you. You can also try alternating between heat and cold packs on your sore muscles.
  • Massage Therapy— A self-massage with a foam roller or massage ball can offer immediate relief for sore and stiff muscles. You can find resources online that explain a variety of massage techniques that can release soreness and tension in your muscles. Getting a professional massage is more costly, but can be more effective if you have the time and can bear the cost.
  • Active stretching and movementGently stretching, shaking out or otherwise moving the affected area can often help increase blood flow and keep your muscles limber. Static stretching (long, sustained stretches) can actually be dangerous and can lead to injury. Try active stretching, where you focus on moving the sore area, and make sure you warm up first.

Get Plenty of Rest

Athlete lying down and resting in the park
Dirima / Shutterstock

If you’re using proper walking form and not exceeding your fitness level, soreness and discomfort is often the result of simply not getting enough rest. Your body needs sleep and rest periods to fully recover from workouts – even less intense ones. As you exercise, your muscle fibers break down or are damaged. After you’re finished exercising, your body needs time to repair your muscles and hopefully build them back stronger. Sleep is a key time for muscle recovery, as it’s your body’s main time for repair. If you’re not getting a good 7-8 hours of sleep per night, that could be the cause of your frequent walking-related soreness.

In addition to getting a good night’s sleep, your body needs enough rest time to actually repair the wear and tear on your body from walking. If you’re constantly exercising, your body may not be able to fully repair itself. This wear and tear accumulates over time until you start to feel sore, but it can also lead to serious injury as damaged muscles or joints can give out after a slip or bad step. Incorporate rest days every so often to let your body “catch up” on recovery. Leisurely walking is lower impact on your body, so you can still do light walking on your rest days. If you’re feeling very sore, cut back on the intense fitness walking for at least a day and see how you feel.

Eat Better

Woman eating a dessert at home
Branislav Nenin / Shutterstock

Nutrition plays an important role both our weight management and recovery from injury. While certain “muscle recovery foods” such as berries, bananas, and spinach may potentially help recovery, ensuring that you eat a balanced diet is probably your best bet to recovering from walking. Protein is critical for muscle recovery, but most people actually get more than enough protein in their diet. Junk food probably doesn’t hinder recovery, but it can leave you feeling tired and doesn’t contribute to your overall health.

Maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce soreness by reducing the wear and tear on your joints. The more mass you have to carry around, the harder your muscles and joints have to work to support you. In this way, walking for weight loss can actually help you with soreness too.

Stay Active by Changing it Up

If you notice you’re feeling sore after workouts, the first thing you should do is think back on whether you’ve made a recent change to your workout routine. If you’ve recently increased your activity, changed up your gear, or added different exercises then those could be the cause of the problem. Try reverting back to your previous routine for a few days and see how you feel. You can always increase your activity level again, slowly, once you’re feeling your best.

If you haven’t made any major changes and you’re not feeling great, it might be time to mix things up. Consider adding yoga or a stretching practice into your exercise program to improve flexibility and help your muscles recover from your walking sessions. Swimming can also be a great alternative exercise when experiencing soreness that can allow you to stay active while recovering.

Is it just soreness or something more?

Doctor checking patient's knee
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When you’re dealing with soreness and pain, it is important to differentiate between soreness and a more serious injury that may need further medical attention. Soreness generally feels like stiffness or minor aches and often occurs after some time has passed following your workout session. Minor soreness usually goes away after a few hours, or at most a day or two.

If you’re experiencing persistent soreness that doesn’t go away even after you’ve cut back on exercise, you may have suffered a more serious injury. If the pain is localized to one area of your body, and keeps recurring every time you start to pick up your activity, you should consult a doctor and ensure that there’s no injury that’s limiting your ability to walk. Your doctor can help you find a rehab plan to strengthen that part and any supporting muscles or joints.

If you feel sharp, intense pain, that’s a sign of a more serious injury that needs immediate attention. Not all injuries are caused by an identifiable, serious slip, fall or bump. If you do experience sharp pain, go get checked out, as serious injuries may not easily heal on their own.

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