Don't 'Walk It Off': 4 Common Walking Injuries And How To Treat Them

Choosing walking as your daily exercise is often a safe and enjoyable alternative to stressful workouts. However, even as comfortable as walking can be, it can still cause pain and other problems in your feet and lower legs. Here are the 4 most common injuries and causes of pain for avid walkers -- as well as what to do about them. 

Shin Splints

What is it? Shin splints commonly cause stiffness or soreness in the shins (the front of your lower leg). Because walking (and running) put a lot of pressure on the shin -- especially when done on hard surfaces or uphill -- it can strain the shin muscles. 

What to do? If you feel pain in your shins when walking, cut back immediately. You may need 1 to 2 months to rest the area before building back up to your routine. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve pain. Switch to non-impact exercises such as swimming to keep in shape, and increase your pre-workout stretches to help strengthen the muscles in the lower legs. 

Plantar Fasciitis

What is it? The plantar fascia is like a shock absorber on the bottom of your foot. A band of tissue running from the ball of the foot to the heel, it can become irritated by overuse or arch problems. The most common symptom sufferers feel is pain in the heel, especially when first getting up in the morning (because the tissue has stiffened overnight). The best prevention for this inflammation of the plantar fascia -- called plantar fasciitis -- is to avoid too much exercise as well as wearing shoes with improper arch support. 

What to do? Home treatment includes rolling a tennis ball or frozen water bottle under the arch of your foot several times per day. A good stretching exercise is to pull the toes of the affected foot toward the shin until you can feel a taut line of muscles inside the arch of the same foot. Switch to better supporting athletic shoes and hard walking surfaces.If symptoms fail to resolve themselves, you may need to consult with a podiatrist or begin using orthopedic arch supports. 

Runner's Knee

What is it? Although commonly referred to as "runner's knee," patellofemoral pain syndrome can strike walkers as well. Runner's knee causes pain to flare up on the front of the kneecap or on its sides. It's generally caused by incorrect movement of the kneecap or bad gait. 

What to do? Stop doing the exercise that's causing knee pain while simultaneously increasing quad strengthening exercises (because the quads control the tracking of the knee). Once the knee pain has subsided, switch your walking path to one that does not include hills or long strides. Work with a sports medicine doctor if the symptoms fail to subside with home remedies.  

Stress Fracture

What is it? Unlike fractures that come from a fall or an accident, stress fractures are easy to mistake for other problems. Since the damage occurs through too much use over time rather than from a sudden, identifiable event, it may be hard to discern that a fracture has happened when you begin to feel pain or tenderness when pressing on a specific part of your foot or shin. 

What to do? Do not ignore a stress fracture, which if left untreated can become exacerbated to the point of being painful to simply stand on. Consult with a qualified sports medicine doctor to see if a bone scan is needed. He or she will determine where the fracture has occurred and how serious it is.  

Taking good care of your legs, knees and feet is vital for anyone, but it's especially important for avid walkers and runners. By paying attention to new pains and treating them with rest, stretches or even a doctor's visit, you will ensure a healthy body for many more years to come. Click here to learn more about treating and preventing sports injuries.