Walking can be the ideal way to exercise. Young or old, walking burns calories and tones the body. Walking is an exercise that can be done inside or out and is not prevented by inclement weather.
Walkers, however, sometimes ignore the pain in their lower extremities that can lead to serious injury and chronic problems. Chronic pain can also cause one to stop exercising which negates any benefits initially gained.
Ten common leg and foot pains that should never be ignored are as follows:
The most common is Plantar fasciitis which manifests itself as pain and or tenderness on the bottom of the foot or in the heel.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by tears in the band of tissue that runs from the heel to the ball of the foot. When this natural shock absorber is aggravated by walking on concrete or other hard surfaces, the tissue becomes strained causing the tears. According to Teresa Schuemann, spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, “Walkers can overwork the area when pounding the pavement, especially when you wear hard shoes on concrete because there’s very little give as the foot lands.”
People with high arches or walk with pronation are especially prone to plantar fasciitis. The faciitis tissue stiffens at night when the foot is not being used. If one experiences pain in the arch or heel first thing in the morning, it can be a sure sign of plantar fasciitis. With no medical attention, it can develop into heel spurs, a painful buildup of calcium around the tissue of the heel.
One way of preventing or caring for this problem is a series of stretches. Crossing the leg with the foot on the top of the opposing thigh and pulling the toes upward until a stretch is felt for 10 seconds with ten repetitions can be of great help. Follow this by rolling the foot on a full water bottle.
Wearing supportive shoes with a strong arch support are also a big help. Over the counter arch supports or custom made shoes can ease the pain. A podiatrist can also fit one with a nighttime splint to prevent stiffening.
Another cause of foot pain can be an ingrown toenail. Swelling and redness on a toe can indicate that the nail is growing down into the toe rather than across the top of the toe. It can often be caused by shoes that are too tight or too short. Bleeding and infection can be a result.
As feet swell during exercise and long periods of walking it is best to wear walking shoes that are a half-size bigger than dress shoes. Keep the toenail straight when trimming and don’t file the corners to a rounded shape. Those who turn their foot in while they walk (pronation) should wear inserts to keep the foot in the proper position for walking. If one has circulation problems or diabetes, ingrown toenails are best left treated by a professional.
The third most common foot problem is caused by bunions. When the bones in the outer toes become misaligned a painful swelling develops and becomes a bunion. Flat-footed people and those who suffer from arthritis are more likely to develop bunions.
Wearing wide shoes can help alleviate this problem. Shoes can be stretched by an expert shoe repairman if one is not yet ready for a new pair. Bunion pads, available at most stores, can cushion the swollen areas or for more severe cases one can have surgery performed to re-align the bones.
Achilles tendonitis can be another cause of leg or foot pain. The Achilles tendon, so named because the Greek warrior of the Trojan War, Achilles, was only vulnerable in his heel, connects the heel and the calf muscle. Lack of stretching before exercise or starting out with too large of a goal can strain this tendon.
Avoiding hills and uneven pavement can help prevent the problem. Dr. Michael J. Muller, a professor of physical therapy at St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine states that calf stretches can prevent Achilles tendonitis.
Reducing the length of the walking route can help as well as applying cold compresses on the painful area for at least fifteen minutes three or four times a day will reduce inflammation and pain.
Walking causes repetitive movement that can sometimes aggravate lower back pain causing lumbar strain.
Keeping the spine perfectly straight will strengthen the abs. Dancers are told to imagine a string is running from the ear to the ankle that must stay taut to learn how to keep their spines straight. Dr. Schumann recommends keeping the spine elongated by bending at the ankles rather than the back when walking on an upward incline. Crossing the arms at the wrist in front of the waist and raising the arms similar to removing a shirt and then slowly lowering the arms can help to improve posture and keep the back muscles strong.
Morton’s Neuroma is an extremely painful condition of the foot that causes a lump in the ball of the foot between the base of the third and fourth toes. Walking on a hard surface with this condition causes one to roll the foot outward to avoid the painful pressure, weakening the ankle and misaligning posture.
It can be hereditary among women and often gets progressively worse. Avoiding high heels and using insoles with a firm arch support and padding for the ball of the foot can help with this condition. Surgery is also an option, but as the arch becomes weak with age and the bones of the foot spread, multiple surgeries may be required.
Shin splints is a common condition that cause pain running up the shin. The legs have to bear the entire weight of the body which can increase up to six times when walking or running. Calf muscles are stronger than the surrounding muscles, and the repetitive pulling during walking causes inflammation and pain. Walkers and runners who overdo it at the beginning of their routine are susceptible to shin splints.
Dr. Joel Press, director of the Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center in Chicago, advises resting the leg for three to eight weeks if it hurts to walk. Cold packs and anti-inflammatories can help with the pain and muscle strengthening exercises can prevent recurring episodes.
Walking and running can put extra strain on the hips causing the hip joint cushion called bursea to inflame. Commonly called Bursitis, it is usually caused by walking too far or too fast before developing resistance. Replacing walking or running with swimming or bicycling can allow the injury to heal while still keeping in shape. Retuning to walking or running should be done gradually. Walking shorter distances less frequently and at a slower pace will condition the bursea and allow a gradual return to a more normal pace and distance.
Throbbing pain in the kneecap can indicate Runner’s Knee. Similar to tennis elbow, constant pressure on the knee during walking may cause the bone in the knee to rub against the femur and cause damage to cartilage and tendonitis. Overactive walkers and those with flat feet run a greater risk of developing this condition.
Again, resting the leg for eight to twelve weeks will improve the condition. Increase the strength of the knees by exercise and walking sideways using a band around the ankles to increase resistance.
Another painful condition manifested by pain when a particular spot on the leg or foot is pressed are tiny fractures in the bone referred to as stress fractures. Inattention to shin splints or overburdened muscles can cause the bone to absorb the shock. Again, walking too fast or too long before conditioning the muscles can be responsible.
Staying off the leg for at least six weeks and allowing the bone to heal before resuming walking will help. Gradually increasing speed and distance when returning to walking will help prevent pain and reduce any possibility of recurrence. Increasing calcium intake by eating calcium-rich foods or taking supplements can strengthen bones as well. Those over fifty will need more calcium than their younger counterparts.
Gradually working into speed and distance when walking and wearing correct footwear can greatly reduce the chances of any of the above problems allowing one to keep walking to stay fit and trim.