Walking is one of the safest ways to get more physical activity. Minimize your injury risk with these tips:
Get a smart start
Start low and go slow with supportive, well-fitting, cushioned athletic shoes. Increase your walking time or distance by 10 to 20 percent each week. Replace your shoes every 300-500 miles to avoid the wear and tear that can contribute to injuries. See “Sneaker Savvy” handout. You can find a list of walking shoes recommended by the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine at http://www.aapsm.org/walkingshoes.html.
Studies have shown that synthetic fiber socks decrease blisters compared to cotton socks. (Cotton tends to absorb moisture and increase friction.) Look for socks that are made with synthetic fibers such as Coolmax®, acrylic or polypropylene. If you buy new shoes, start with a short walk so that new pressure points don’t irritate your skin.
Skip the shin splints
Shin splints (pain on the front of your lower leg) can occur if you increase your walking distance and speed too quickly or add too many hills too soon. Prevent them by wearing athletic shoes with adequate support and cushioning and gradually increasing your walking mileage and pace. Be sure and stretch your calves (both straight and bent knee) after walking.
Nix the knee pain
There are many causes of knee pain, including osteoarthritis and other problems. If you experience knee pain when you exercise, talk to your doctor. You may need a new pair of walking shoes with better support or cushioning. You may also benefit from strengthening and/or stretching exercises targeting the muscles that support the knee and hip.
Don’t forget to look both ways when you cross the street — especially with many quiet hybrid cars on the road! If you’re listening to your iPod, make sure the sound doesn’t drown out street noise. Wear light-colored clothing with reflective strips if you’re walking at dawn or dusk.
Walking on sidewalks is safest. If you walk on the road, walk against traffic so you can see approaching cars. There is a slight grade from the middle of the street to the curb to allow for water drainage. Walking on the edge of the street forces the downhill leg to bend slightly inward, stretching your iliotibial band (a ligament that runs along the outside of your thigh). This could cause some irritation and pain. Alternate walking on different sides of the street so you don’t have the same leg consistently on the downhill slope.
Concrete sidewalks are less forgiving than asphalt. Cinder tracks and dirt trails are even softer and gentler on your joints.
Walking paths and hiking trails can be scenic and refreshing. Just watch out for uneven terrain, rocks, tree roots or hidden holes, which could cause ankle injuries. You may want to invest in lightweight trail running or hiking shoes, which provide additional support for walking in the great outdoors.
Listen to your body. If you feel pain, particularly if it increases or comes on earlier in your walk, limit your activity and contact your doctor.
If you experience an injury while walking, follow the RICE prescription and call your healthcare provider:
- Rest. Rest the injured area. Get off your feet!
- Ice. Apply a bag of ice to the injured area for about 20 minutes. Ice is nature’s anti-inflammatory and can reduce tissue damage. Use a bag of frozen peas if you don’t have an ice bag handy. Place a wet cloth between the ice pack and your skin. Repeat morning, after work and evening as long as you experience pain and/or swelling.
- Compression. Use an ace bandage/wrap to secure your ice bag to the injury with some pressure. This can help control swelling.
- Elevation. If your foot or knee is injured, sit or lie down with your leg elevated at/above heart level. This reduces swelling and can help promote faster healing.