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  • Sarah Morton

Why Can Walking Hurt?

This week in the clinic I saw a fit 40-something lady, who had an onset of low back, hip and leg pain after simply walking a few kilometres on the beach for 4 days in a row whilst on holidays.

She is upset! She exercises 3 times a week including Pilates, weights, treadmill, and more. Why should something as seemingly easy as walking cause her injury, when she can train all year with no problems??

Why can Walking Hurt?

Walking is exercise, like any other exercise. It has its own demands, and our bodies need to be ready and prepared for walking at pace for exercise.

There are several factors that make walking an exercise that requires some preparation.

  • Firstly, walking is very repetitive. To walk 6km, you might take close to 8,000 steps! Thats a lot of steps doing basically the same motion. This is prime territory for overuse injury.

  • You always have one foot on the ground when you walk, which means your hips have to stretch further forward and back with each step than when you jog.

  • This level of repetition can also cause fatigue in the muscles, causing loss or form, and stress on joints and tendons.

  • Walking at pace requires each leg to stretch forward to take the steps. If the body is not trained for this, the pelvis and lower back can rotate and twist with every step. Shearing forces can build around the back and hips.

  • Walking on sand is also a factor for my patient. Sand is soft and means the foot does not have solid support. My patient is used to wearing shoes for all her exercises, and always does her training on a hard flat surface in the gym. She is not trained for soft and unpredictable ground.

What can you do to walk safely without injury?

  1. Get a strong butt and strong legs. The muscles of the buttock (gluteals) and the hips do an enormous amount of work when we walk. They propel us forward, and they control our motion to prevent our hips dropping and our back twisting. If you want to walk safely, you need a strong butt. Our previous blog on strength for runners is just as useful to prepare for walking.

  2. Practice and build up. If you are not used to walking for exercise, you need to approach it like any other new sport. Start at a slower pace, with shorter strides, and include short bursts of faster walking. This allows your muscles learn how to coordinate the motion, to recover, and prevents fatigue and overuse. Start with a shorter walk overall and build up the distance.

  3. Listen to your body. If you start getting pains around the hip, back, knees or ankles, then you need to slow down, and re-assess you walk program. You may need to progress more gently. You may need to see a physio.

  4. Shoes. Make sure your shoes give you support in the arch, and feel comfortable. Wear good socks. Prevent blisters and rubbing. But, if you are going to walk on a beach, then you also need to spend some time barefoot to allow the small muscles of your feet get into better condition.

  5. Start on relatively flat and predictable ground. As your endurance builds, you can introduce hills and softer surfaces like sand.

  6. If you have niggles, talk to professional physiotherapist to improve your strength and technique.

  7. If you are concerned, consider a professional gait assessment to ensure your have the strength and support you need to keep walking.

If you need help, get in touch with us and we can steer you in the right direction.

But don’t be discouraged by risk of injury. Plan to “walk healthy” by following our advice. Get out there and start building your walking program. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise for us throughout our lives.


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