Injury Prevention 101 for walkers – 7 tips to stay injury free and walk more!

The key to staying active consistently and getting more steps is preventing walking injuries and staying injury-free! Preventing injuries before they happen and stopping minor injuries from becoming major injuries is the best way to keep up a regular brisk daily walking routine.

Most people have been there – You’ve been walking more over the past few months and finally hit that step goal – possibly 10,000 steps. You might have noticed sore feet, pain in your knees, or other minor walking injuries. What’s the best way to maintain the progress you’ve worked so hard to earn? It’s to prevent severe walking injuries so you can keep up your momentum. If a walking-related injury does occur, you need to know how to slowly work your way back up to your routine in order to prevent future injuries.

We’ll cover how to reduce your risk of some of the main types of walking injuries, while dealing with minor aches and pains that come from daily walking.

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Preventing an Injury: Ways to Prevent Strains

Woman showing off exercise resistance band
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To maintain your walking routine, you should try your best to prevent injuries before they happen. Although it’s impossible to guarantee you’ll never get injured, there are steps you can take to minimize the risks of injury from your walking routine. Some ways to prevent injuries include:

  • Warming up
  • Stretching
  • Building up your endurance gradually
  • Pacing yourself according to your fitness level (weight, age, height, fitness goals, etc.)

The more in tune you are with your body, and the more time you take to “prep” your bones and joints before a walk, the easier it is to prevent injuries.

Simple Tips to Prevent Walking Injuries

Jogger stretching thighs on a bridge over water
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Once you have your walking plan laid out and are increasing your step count gradually, you’ll want to maintain your progress. Just because walking is lower-impact exercise than running or many other sports, it doesn’t mean you can’t strain or injure yourself. Proper preparation is key, but here are a few other things you can do to help you avoid an injury that will sideline you for some time.

Warm-Up and Cool Down

Woman stretching before a run
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Warming up properly may seem like a waste of time. That is, of course, is until you pull, strain, or otherwise injure yourself. At that point, you’ll wish you’d taken just a few minutes to properly warm up to walking. During every cardio workout (including walking), it’s important to warm up at the beginning and cool down at the end. Warming up gets your body ready for a workout. Even if you’re planning a slow-paced walk, you need to limber up and loosen up your joints.

Start by getting your body moving slowly to get the blood flowing. Try some light “dynamic stretching,” where you’re moving around and not bending too hard into a stretch while you’re still cold. Make sure to start walking by walking slowly and limbering up before starting your normal walking pace. Doing this ensures you’re prepared for those hills, dips, inclines, and other obstructions that come your way as you walk.

Just as important as your warm-up is the cooldown. After walking, especially walking longer distances or a more challenging walking workout, give your body the cooldown it deserves. End your walk with a slow cooldown, so that you don’t go from a brisk walk directly to sitting or lying down. Once you’re done your walk, unwind, sit in a sauna, take a warm bath, or simply relax and let the body temperature cool back down. Slow down the pace and let your heart rate settle back to a normal resting pace.

This will not only help to prevent injuries, but also make you stronger and help build up your resistance and stamina for upcoming walks.

Know Your Surroundings

Uneven pavement that looks dangerous to walk on
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Your walking surface has a huge impact on your risk of injuries. Walking on the right service can give you a low-impact workout that’s easier on your joints. Slippery or uneven surfaces increase your risk of slips, falls and sprains. Uneven pavement, or hiking on uneven ground, can give you a tougher workout because your muscles need to constantly adjust to your foot position. The downside is that making these muscles work harder increases the risk of straining them, even if you don’t take a fall. Harder surfaces are also tougher on your knees, hips, and back than softer surfaces like running tracks. Older walkers or walkers coming back from an injury should be especially careful, as reflexes are not as quick and it’s harder to compensate from a bad step.

Make sure that your walking temperature and the environment you walk in is not too extreme. Walking too much in hot weather can lead to heatstroke and other problems. You may also tire faster, which leaves you at greater risk of injury. Make sure to stay safe in summer when the weather heats up! Cold weather walking presents the risk of slippery, icy surfaces and skin injuries from insufficiently warm clothes. It’s also easier to pull a muscle when your body is cold, so take extra time to warm up. Walking in the rain makes things slippery and footing difficult as well.

Try to walk on even ground, in well-lit conditions, and areas where you’re capable of maintaining your steps to reach your goals. You can walk through challenging terrain (hilly, incline walks or hiking), as long as you take it slow, are an experienced walker and take the time to get familiar with the route.

Know Your Body

Woman holding side in pain from a walk
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Everyone’s body is different, and learning your particular strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities is key to preventing injury. Even if you’ve never had a specific injury diagnosed, you’re probably aware of a sore knee, tight lower back, or another injury that flares up from time to time. If you tend to experience pain specifically while walking, like shin splints or sore feet, it’s a good idea to get that area looked at just in case. Pay special attention to those areas as you walk, and try to look for some rehab or strength exercises to shore up weak muscles and joints.

It is possible to walk too much, and if you do you’re at increased risk of injury. If you’re not used to long walks, recovering from injury or have physical limitations, make sure not to push yourself too hard. Regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, know your body and what it can handle. You don’t need 10,000 steps per day for great health benefits!

Don’t go for a 10-mile walk if you’ve never completed a 2-mile walk. Don’t try to walk very fast if it is your first week or month into fitness walking or if you’ve just come back from an injury. When you try to push yourself beyond your limits, your posture and form will slip and that’s the time you’re very likely to hurt yourself!

If it Hurts… Stop!

walker holding shin because of shin splints
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If you’re feeling pain, particularly a sharp or new pain, cut your walk short for the day. If you feel a pop or sudden pain, it’s not something you should try to “walk off.” Take the rest of the day off and see how the injured part feels. If you suspect you’ve suffered a serious injury or you’re just not sure, see a doctor right away.

Even if you’re feeling a dull or steady pain, it could be your body overcompensating for bad walking posture or another injury or strain. A bad knee may cause you to limp slightly, taking your back out of alignment and causing back pain. Conversely, a bad back can throw off your walking form which can strain your shoulders, knees or hips. Try to work on your walking form and take breaks if you notice your walking posture is slipping.

Assuming you’ve got checked out and you haven’t suffered a new injury, rest is the best way to heal up from minor aches and pains. Walking (and Pacer) will be there when you’re rested and feel better. Taking a day or two off can be just what your body needs to rest up and get healthier, so you can get back to walking. Even if you’re not injured yet, make sure to plan for proper rest. Rest (and sleep) allow your body to work through its kinks. It’s a well-oiled machine and needs time to get back to working order. Don’t rush it!

Consider Adding Strength Training into the Mix

Woman doing lower body exercises at home
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If you’re capable, add strength training to the workout mix. Some things to consider include:

  • Squats and lunges
  • Lower body weighted exercises
  • Balance exercises

Simple exercises to strengthen your core and lower body strength will help you maintain your walking form and prevent injuries. You can try Pacer’s free bodyweight workouts, or find some basic workouts online. Make sure to pay special attention to your form, because improper form is a recipe for hurting yourself. You can also give your lower body a strength workout through incline walking or walking steps.

Listen to Your Body and Recover When Necessary

Athlete lying down and resting in the park
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Some people think “It’s just a 2-mile walk, I can handle it every day.” Everybody (and everybody’s body) needs to rest and recover – whether you’re new to working out our a seasoned walker. Even world-class athletes take rest days and time off. You need to take rest days as well. If you’re feeling sore, starting a new routine, or simply haven’t given your body some R&R (rest and relaxation) in some time, plan a day or a few days off. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to go for your next walk.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep as well, especially if you’re walking more than usual. Sleep is your body’s time to recover, and getting less than 7 hours of sleep can inhibit recovery and increase your risk of injury or strain. If you’re going through a crazy schedule and you can’t get proper sleep (which hopefully is temporary), be especially careful when exercising.

Proper Attire is Critical to Your Workouts

Walking on bridge in walking shoes
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You wouldn’t wear boots on a marathon, so why wear ill-fitting shoes when you go on your walking routine? Choosing the right walking shoes can help your feet feel better, but can also prevent slips and sprained ankles. The right shoes can even help to prevent knee, hip or back pain. Make sure to check your shoes for wear periodically. If the sole is worn out, you’re more likely to slip and if the insole is worn out you’ll have less cushioning on your feet.

Pair your walking shoes with the right socks and clothing for the temperature and weather you expect to face. Consider it your uniform. You want to do the job right, so you need the right gear to tackle it. You don’t need to buy the most expensive, sportiest or most fashionable gear, but try to find good quality walking gear where possible. Making a small investment in a great pair of shoes, socks, and walking clothes can go a long way towards getting your steps.

Dealing with Minor Injuries and Getting Back to Full Force in Less Time

Athlete with ankle injury getting checked out
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In the event you do get hurt, what should you do? First, stop training at least or the day! Trying to keep walking on an injury will only make it worse. If you felt or heard a pop or you’ve experienced sharp pain, see a doctor right away.

If you’re sure your injury is minor, an ice pack can help to reduce swelling and pain. After the swelling is reduced (perhaps a day or two later), many people use heating pads to get the blood flowing to the injured area. The best thing you can do is to rest, get as much sleep as possible and avoid reinjuring the injured area. It’s going to be weaker, at least for a little while, so you won’t be able to push yourself as hard for some time. That’s ok!

An injury is your body’s way of telling you that you overdid it. Listen to your body! By allowing your body to heal completely, you’re going to come back in full force and better than ever to tackle your new challenges ahead. When you’re ready to come back, do so slowly and build your resistance back up. This will guarantee you don’t aggravate or re-injure the body when you start back on your walking routine.

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