Common Walking Injuries and How to Avoid Them

by Jodi Helmer
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Common Walking Injuries and How to Avoid Them

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

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.

PLANTAR FASCIITIS

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.”

SHIN SPINTS

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.

TENDINITIS

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.

METATARSALGIA

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.

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  • Marilyn

    My problems have developed in my hips. In the last several months I am have a lot of pain when ever I sit for a while and then get up to just walk around the pain is getting worse and worse. . Thought well I need to do more walking but pain is just getting worse every week. . Any thoughts?

    • Berta Crowe

      Just curious…your age? I am in peri-menopause and have had severe hip/joint pain. In researching this, I have discovered that lack of/lower estrogen levels can cause pain in your hips. It also suggests just an over-the-counter medication.

    • Irena Olender

      See a good orthopedist specializing in back injuries and sciatic pain. It sounds to me you have serious back issues that need treatment. Once you are diagnosed you might be helped by physical therapy.

    • LittleD

      I’ve been having the same problems, and sitting makes it the worst. I saw an orthopedist and they told me I have hip dysplasia, which is an incorrect forming of the hip joint that likely started as a child. Unfortunately, I’m the cut-off age for corrective surgery, so am going to do physical therapy to strengthen my hip (left hip, sometimes right) and then get injections into the hip. Only alternative after that is a total hip replacement. Wish I had found this out in my 20s when it first started bothering me, and I could have gotten the surgery. Long story short, I would recommend seeing an orthopedic doctor to rule out any injury or nerve condition/sciatica.

  • Joe Luchenta

    All of these high intensity workouts are great for millennials but for people my age, 65, it is very difficult and close to impossible. Now I’m not one who had a desk job all my life I did old fashioned manual labor for 40 years. But now without that I’m gaining weight. I walk 5 to 6 miles a day but can’t seem to get down to “fighting” weight. I’m 210lbs now was always 190 working days. Any thoughts?

    • Berta Crowe

      I have discovered as I’ve gotten older (51 now) my metabolism has slowed WAY down and I can’t lose weight with just exercise anymore. Since I hate, hate, hate to diet I have been doing portion control and eating less fried/processed foods. I have also cut out sodas, drinking only coffee, milk, or water. Since starting this on January 4th, I have dropped 13 pounds without exercise. I started exercising/walking again yesterday and hope to see even more weight come off. Good luck!

      • Unclefunkel

        If you are looking for a good workout that will help with weight control or loss and yet is easy on the joints, try Aqua Jogging. All you do is simulate jogging. I have right knee problems that were becoming very debilitating. I actually needed a cane for the first few steps in the morning. Since I took up Aqua Jogging, I have very little stiffness and more flexibility in my troublesome knee. I get into the pool and to 4-5 ft of water and just go like you are running on pavement or a running track. Believe me, you will get in a heck of a workout with no aches and pains afterword. I am 65 yrs of age and I can go anywhere from 1-2 hrs without stopping while Aqua Jogging. If I tried to jog through the neighborhood, I wouldn’t last 5 min. Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose. If you don’t believe what I’m telling you, Google Aqua Jogging. You will be surprised what you find.

  • Crystal Ruiz

    I have actually developed a heel spur in one foot and have a metal rod and nine screws in the other leg so exercising can be painful and difficult but I refuse to give up on losing all this excess weight. Any ideas on what I can do where I won’t need to take a ton of painkillers after?

  • Edward E

    I just had an experience with shin splints for the first time, it was caused by changing my stride. I was originally extending my strides forward but I found out that it is better to extend your strides behind after reading up on this condition.