When you seize the motivation to start walking, it’s easy to throw yourself whole heartedly into the first few days of your new routine. Sometimes, though, you may throw yourself a little too far. Developing a habit is a long term effort, and while it may be tempting to push yourself as hard and as far as you can before you drop, you may be hurting your ultimate goals. Remember, stress creates stress injuries. Even if your head’s in the game, your feet, ankles, joints, and muscles need a little time to adapt.
The Consequences of Stress Injuries
If your goal is a new, fit lifestyle, creating an injury that will hamper your exercise routine for months, or even years, is far from beneficial. Your enthusiasm for walking would instantly transform into daily habits designed to minimize your pain. Care for stress injuries includes everything from long periods of rest to anti-inflammatory medication. If you push too hard, or ignore the signs of a developing stress injury, you could actually tear delicate ligaments and tendons. These problems often require surgery.
A stress injury could actually leave you in worse shape than you were before you started walking. Stress injuries often create tension in other parts of the body. Other areas must bear the weight the injured segment once bore. This tension can create additional stress injuries. It’s a vicious cycle, but the good news is that it’s relatively easy to avoid.
Choosing the Right Shoes
Football players wear helmets to protect them on the field. Your feet need the right equipment to protect them from the new stresses you’re subjecting them to. This means finding the right shoes to support your entire foot before you even hit the trail. When you’re looking at shoes, keep these suggestions in mind. They’ll help you weed out the fashionable but function-less options.
Look for thick heels. Even though high heeled shoes are notorious for giving their wearers back problems, a slight lift actually reduces a lot of stress in your foot and ankle. This feature is easy to see from the outside. You may be able to see a shoe’s arch support from the outside as well, though the best arch support features usually have internal components, too. Although shoes with low collars may be stylish, your ankle could use the extra support, especially if you’re going straight from couch to treadmill. High collars with good padding help keep your ankle steady, which will also impacts pronation.
Check the padding inside the shoe. It needs to be comfortable from the start, but it should have definite arch support inside. A removable insole is ideal. It will allow you to swap out the old padding for new cushion when it wears down, and you have the option of adding orthopedic inserts as well. Make sure your toes fit comfortably in the toe box, and read all available information to see if the shoe has any shock absorption. Walking shoes may become more comfortable once you break them in. However, if they aren’t comfortable from the first day, then the shoes may in fact be breaking in your feet.
Building a Good Routine
Your walking routine should include more than just climbing out of your car and heading straight to the path. These cold starts place unusual stresses on your body, especially the most flexible areas, like your ankles and joints. Developing a full routine alleviates these stresses and dramatically reduces the likelihood of a stress injury.
In order to function at peak capacity, your body needs time to warm up. There are many great warm up routines available online, and we’ve put our own together, specifically for walkers like you. Warming up makes your body limber. Stiff tendons grow more flexible with a warm up, and warm muscles are less likely to tear and ache.
A proper cool down is the best way to increase flexibility and lower the chances of future stress injuries. If you practice yoga, it’s best to go through your poses and stretches immediately after a long walk. A warm muscle at the end of a workout is at its most flexible. By performing your static stretches after walking, you reduce the chance of straining something just by reaching down to touch your toes. After all, even stretches can create stress injuries. We’ve put together a cool down routine to match our warm up article. It’s designed specifically for walkers.
Listen to Your Body
If your body tells you to stop, listen to it. There’s a difference between pushing yourself to meet a reasonable goal and pushing yourself past the breaking point. If something hurts, stop. Pay special attention to your feet and joints. These highly sensitive areas will let you know immediately if something’s gone wrong. Don’t try to push through the rest of your workout. Cool down immediately and see a doctor if the pain doesn’t fade. Catching stress injuries early prevents them from turning into fractures and tears. It’s always better to start slow and gradually develop endurance. Pushing too hard too soon almost always results in stress injuries. Partner with your body rather than working against it.
When people try to get fit, they rarely consider stress injuries. A good, long walk doesn’t sound like something that could hurt you. However, most stress injuries come from overweight individuals and those who make sudden, dramatic changes in their fitness habits. You must always be careful when you adapt your workout routine. Just because you’re good at lifting weights doesn’t mean your body is ready to take on a long hike.
With the right care and due consideration, stress injuries are avoidable. Start on the right foot with good, supportive shoes, and know what features to look for before you hit the store. Remember to develop a good routine. Warming up and cooling down are two of the best ways to avoid injury. Even with these precautions, something may go wrong. So, always listen to your body, and remember that slow and steady wins the race.