It’s not just activities like running, weightlifting and football that could cause injuries.
Despite its reputation as being an ideal low-impact exercise, walking can also lay you up if you’re not careful. Injuries ranging from blisters to tendinitis happen to walkers, but that certainly doesn’t mean you should hang up your walking shoes. “The benefits of walking for exercise outweigh the risks,” says Liz Poppert, an assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of Southern California.
Here are a few of the most common walking injuries and tips on how to manage them — or avoid them altogether.
Blisters are caused by friction from ill-fitting shoes and sweaty socks. Even though they’re usually small, these fluid-filled sacs can derail a walk, hike or run. No matter how tempting it might be, podiatrist James R. Christina, the executive director of the American Podiatric Medical Association, warns against popping blisters. “When you puncture the skin, you open up the potential for bacteria and that can make the problem worse,” he says.
The Fix: For a minor blister, a bandage is often a simple solution to continue walking. For a larger blister, consider switching to another activity until it heals. To avoid blisters altogether, Christina suggests wearing shoes that fit properly and socks that wick moisture.
The inflammation of the band of tissue, called the fascia, that connects the heel bone to the base of the toes can cause severe pain. In mild cases, the pain often disappears during a walk, says Poppert. “A walking workout may be initially uncomfortable for the first several minutes, then often the pain goes away for the remainder of the walk,” she says. “If it is more severe, symptoms may escalate during the walk.”
The Fix: An over-the-counter pain reliever and applying ice to the fascia for 20 minutes at least three times a day can help ease the pain; regular stretching or physical therapy can also help stretch the fascia and ease the tension. Supporting the arch with taping or arch supports or strengthening the arch muscles may ease tension on the fascia, says Poppert. “Once tissues are less irritated, activity level can increase again.”
Pain and inflammation along the inner edge of the shinbone (or tibia) is often diagnosed as shin splints. The pain can be sharp or dull and throbbing — and it can occur both during and after exercise.
Although shin splints are most often associated with running, walking can cause them, too. “You can get shin splints from overuse or doing too much too soon,” explains Christina. Ill-fitting shoes are another common cause of shin splints; the pain is also more common in people with flat feet.
The Fix: A combination of rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers can help calm inflammation and alleviate shin splints. To keep the pain from returning, go slow.
“You need to ease into an exercise program, even walking,” says Christina.
An inflamed tendon causes tendinitis. The condition, which can result from tight calf muscles, bone spurs or walking too far or too fast too soon, can trigger swelling, pain and irritation. Depending on which tendon it affects, tendinitis can make a walking workout next to impossible.
Poppert says that it most commonly affects the Achilles tendon, connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone, and the tibialis posterior tendon, which runs under the foot and supports the arch.
The Fix: Don’t walk through the pain. Rest, apply ice and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to ease tendinitis. When the pain subsides and you’re ready to return to your walking workout, Poppert notes that adding heel lifts and/or arch supports to your shoes can prevent a recurrence.
This condition is diagnosed when there is pain around the metatarsals, the five bones in the area under the toes around the ball of the foot, causing a sharp or burning pain.
The causes of metatarsalgia range from torn ligaments and inflammation of the joint to ill-fitting shoes and calluses that increase pressure on the bone. “If the pain gets worse with activity, it’s important to stop and rest,” says Christina.
The Fix: The treatment for metatarsalgia depends on the cause and may include buying shoes that fit properly or inserting arch supports or soaking feet to soften and remove calluses. If the pain is caused by a bone deformity, surgery may be necessary.
While dealing with the pain of metatarsalgia, Christina suggests switching to other activities like swimming, biking or using the elliptical machine, which will keep pressure off the ball of the foot.
Injuries might force you to briefly suspend your walking workout, but with preventive measures like wearing the right shoes and avoiding overtraining, you can enjoy miles and miles of injury-free walking.