Walking is a very repetitive, low impact activity. Most injuries associated with walking are repetitive use injuries, although occasional trauma may occur. A walker may fall victim to ankle sprains, meniscus tear (knee), hip flexor strains, blisters, and patellar tendonitis.
Most Common Walking Injuries
- Ankle Sprains: Ankle sprains can occur while walking even on level ground. A misstep step on a rock, or step off the edge of a track or sidewalk can result in the ankle rolling under or rotating awkwardly causing tearing of the ligaments that support the ankle joint. Pain at the site of the injury, swelling, discoloration, and tenderness may all be present with a sprain. It may be difficult to bear weight and pain may encompass the whole ankle area. Recovery time for an ankle sprain will depend on the severity of the sprain, and amount of tearing present
- Meniscus Tear: As with ankle sprains, a misstep or step on an uneven surface may cause a twisting of the knee. Usually these twists do not occur with great force, but it may be enough to cause a small tear in the cartilage, meniscus, of the knee. This may result in pain, some localized swelling, and stiffness in the knee. A clicking or locking may occur in the knee at different times. • Hip Flexor Strains: The hip flexor works to pull the upper leg upward. When walking uphill or over obstacles the hip flexor must work extra. If this muscle is weak it may be strained by the additional work, especially if not warmed up properly. A forceful stretching of the muscle, as with stepping in a hole, may also cause a strain of the hip flexor.
- Blisters: Walking requires a continuous stepping motion which causes the foot to move inside the shoe. Improperly sized or fitted shoes can cause excessive pressure and friction on certain areas of the foot causing the skin to become irritated and form a blister. Blisters can also occur when another injury has changed the walking form and the foot is subjected to different pressures. As the friction occurs on the outside of the foot, the body forms a pocket of liquid (serum) to protect the underlying tissue.
- Quadriceps Tendonitis: The quadriceps tendon attaches the quadriceps to the tibia (with the patella imbedded in it.) Overuse of the quadriceps, tight quadriceps, or frequent downhill walking can all lead to tendonitis in this tendon. When the quad muscles tighten they pull on the tendon; and repetitive motions such as walking cause it to work more. Walking downhill puts the tendon in a stretch position (bending the knee) while the quadriceps are still flexed. This causes extra stress on the tendon. Pain, tenderness, and some swelling may be noted around the knee area with quadriceps tendonitis. Pain when bending the knee completely and when the quadriceps muscle is flexed may also be present.
Injury Prevention Strategies
- Choosing level, well maintained walking areas, such as a track or groomed trail, will help prevent traumatic injuries to the knee and ankle.
- Proper warm ups before beginning activities will help prepare the muscles, and the body, for the activity and reduce injuries, as well.
- A good cross-training program, including the use of weights and a good flexibility component, will ensure that the muscles are ready for the work at hand.
- Using properly sized and fitted shoes will help reduce blisters and prevent alignment issues.
- Walking alone can cause the muscles to become tight, especially those of the lower back and hamstrings. A good program of stretching to lengthen those muscles and increase flexibility is essential to overall health.
3 Walking Stretches
- Squatting Leg-out Adductor Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.
- Kneeling Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
- Standing Toe-up Achilles Stretch: Stand upright and place the ball of your foot onto a step or raised object. Bend your knee and lean forward.