Your 7 biggest walking pains, solved!

Mar 30, 2015

  • 1

    When Walking Causes Pain

    Each year, nearly 250,000 walkers are hitched as a result of a walking-induced pain or a nagging old exercise injury that walking has aggravated. As bothersome as the initial problem can be, the real damage is what happens next. You stop exercising, misplace your motivation, and soon gain weight and lose muscle tone. To make sure a debilitating walking injury doesn't prevent you from reaching your fitness and weight loss goals, we asked leading experts for advice on how to avoid aches and treat the 7 most common walking pains.

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  • 2

    Plantar fasciitis: Tenderness on your heel or bottom of foot.

    The plantar fascia is the band of tissue that runs from your heel bone to the ball of your foot. When this dual-purpose shock absorber and arch support is strained, small tears develop and the tissue stiffens as a protective response, causing foot pain. Solution: At the first sign of stiffness in the bottom of your foot, loosen up the tissue by doing this stretch: Sit with ankle of injured foot across opposite thigh. Pull toes toward shin with hand until you feel a stretch in arch. Run your opposite hand along sole of foot; you should feel a taut band of tissue. Do 10 stretches, holding each for 10 seconds. Then stand and massage your foot by rolling it on a golf ball or full water bottle. To reduce pain, wear supportive shoes or sandals with a contoured footbed at all times.

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  • 3

    Ingrown toenail: Soreness or swelling on the sides of your toes.

    You may be more likely to develop ingrown toenails if your shoes are too short or too tight, which causes repeated trauma to the toe as you walk. Leave wiggle room in your shoes. You may need to go up a half size when you buy sneakers, because your feet tend to swell during exercise.

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  • 4

    Bunion: Pain on the side of your big toe.

    A bunion develops when the bones in the joint on the outer side of the big or little toe become misaligned, forming a painful swelling. Walkers with flat feet, low arches, or arthritis may be more apt to develop bunions. Wear shoes that are wider—especially in the toe box. Cushioning the bunion with OTC pads can provide relief, and icing it for 20 minutes after walking will numb the area.

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  • 5

    Achilles tendinitis: Pain in the back of your heel and lower calf.

    The Achilles tendon, which connects your calf muscle to your heel, can be irritated by walking too much, especially if you don't build up to it. For mild cases, reduce your mileage or substitute non-weight-bearing activities such as swimming or upper-body strength training, so long as these don't aggravate the pain.

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  • 6

    Lumbar strain: Ache in your mid to lower back.

    For general back pain prevention, keep the muscles in your trunk strong. While you walk, engage your abs by pulling your belly button toward your spine as if you were trying to flatten your belly to zip up tight jeans. Avoid bending over at the waist, a tendency when you are walking fast or uphill. Instead, keep your spine elongated and lean your whole body slightly forward from your ankles.

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  • 7

    Neuroma: Pain in the ball of your foot or between toes.

    If tissue surrounding a nerve near the base of the toes thickens, it can cause tingling, numbness, or pain that radiates to surrounding areas. It's up to 10 times more common in women than men, possibly because women's feet are structured differently and because we tend to wear narrow, high shoes or very flat ones. Treatment varies from simply wearing roomier shoes to surgery, depending upon the severity of the neuroma. See a podiatrist at the first sign of foot pain, as this condition can worsen quickly. Make sure that your walking shoes have a spacious toe box.

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  • 8

    Shin splints: Stiffness or soreness in your shins.

    Your shins have to bear up to 6 times your weight while you exercise, so foot-pounding activities like walking and running can cause problems for the muscles and surrounding tissues and create inflammation. Cut back on your walking for 3 to 8 weeks to give the tissues time to heal. If it hurts to walk, avoid it. You might need an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, or cold packs to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

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