Bruce Lee once said, “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” This is not the quote in its entirety but this is the bit that reminds me of my view on walking. Walking is my relaxation and my exercise. Walking can be my transportation, my meditation, and even my medication. In fact, there are a number of things I can achieve by adjusting the way I walk. However, what happens when I experience walking pain?
All walkers will experience walking pains from time to time, however, if you are new to raising your walking game, these can be quick to derail your progress. There are many “pains” that can be caused by walking that will, at worst remove our ability to walk and at best, make us not want to. While reviewing the three most common walking pains, I am going to look at what causes them, how we can prevent them, and what we can do to fix them.
Walking Pain – When To See A Doctor
It is important to remember that when you exercise you are pushing your body. Therefore it is common to push it a little further than you want to and your body will use pain to tell you it has gone too far while it fights to fix whatever problems it foresees.
Pain is relative, however, I am going to look at some of the less serious pains that you can take care of yourself. At all stages, it is better to be safe than sorry. If your pain is too severe, you have any underlying medical conditions, or the pain has not subsided after a few weeks then it’s probably best you consult with a medical professional.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
DOMS is the increased pain that you can feel in your muscles which usually begins between 12 and 24 hours after a workout. Every athlete and gym bunny will have experience with DOMS. When this pain occurs in your legs you cannot help but be inconvenienced. Your legs take you where you want to go, near or far. You need your legs to be strong enough to carry your body weight. If you feel discomfort during or immediately after your walk, this is likely to be acute muscular soreness due to a build-up of lactic acid. This is also very common and should go away quite quickly after the exercise has finished.
What Causes DOMS?
Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can help get you to get healthy while protecting your joints. However, when you are raising your walking game, you are asking your legs to do more than they are used to. Your legs are very accomodating and as you increase your efforts they will do what is asked but it will cause some of your muscle fibers to tear. Your body will want to repair your muscles stronger than they were before and to do this, it will increase the inflammation in the affected area. The pain you feel is not from the tearing of the muscles but from your body’s own necessary healing process. As I write this post today, I am experiencing DOMS from my 30KM walk yesterday with 622 meters of elevation (well done to me).
How To Prevent DOMS
Prevent may be a strong word because if you experience DOMS, it is usually a good thing. DOMS occurs after an effective workout and will result in stronger muscles. However, you can minimize the impact and even downgrade pain to mild discomfort.
- Warm your muscles before exercise – Your muscles expand and contract when you move, the harder your effort the harder the contraction. If you go straight into exercise without a warm-up, it can increase the micro-trauma experienced by your muscles. try walking slowly around the house or going through a full range of none weight-bearing motion with your legs before your walking workout.
- Stay hydrated – Over 90% of blood plasma is water, when you exercise your raised walking heart rate is pumping more oxygen around your body through your bloodstream which you will expel as you breathe. You will also be sweating, so your body is going to lose a lot of water and every part of your body needs water to function. Drinking water before, during, and after your walk will help reduce the effect of DOMS a day or two later.
- Stretch off while your muscles are warm – Your muscles will be tight immediately after exercise and if you loosen them up before they cool down, it improves circulation. Improved circulation allows for energy, essential for cell repair, to be delivered more efficiently to the affected areas
- Massage your muscles – A post-walk massage can stimulate your energy-unlocking mitochondria, essential for cell repair. This will speed up the process of muscle repair leaving you with less soreness.
- Get a good night’s sleep – Your body produces growth hormones while you are in your deepest sleep. The good news is, the increased exercise will help you sleep but you need to ensure you are allowing yourself about 7 hours a night. You may also benefit from spraying lavender on your pillow and avoiding looking at screens for a few hours before bedtime.
- Eat enough calories – Even if your primary reason for walking is weight loss, not eating enough can hinder your results. After exercise, you need to eat enough carbs to replenish your glycogen reserves and enough protein for your body to use to repair your muscles. This will allow you to recover faster and maintain the energy needed to continue your routine.
What Should You Do If You Experience DOMS
As I said, DOMS is a natural part of the exercise so if you do experience it, do not worry. Allow yourself a sufficient recovery period (It should be gone in 72 hours) and know that most of the measures you can take to prevent DOMS can be continued to lessen the effects as you experience it. As Doms will usually kick in by
If the pain lasts more than 72 hours and does not appear to be easing, none of the above measures are helping or if the pain is so severe you are unable to walk, speak to a Doctor as this is could be something other than DOMS.
The dreaded B-word is much more likely to derail my workouts than any other walking pain. When I was in training for Hadrian’s Wall, my first big training weekend was carefully planned. Saturday was a 16-mile walk around the Staffordshire countryside with a lot of elevation spread over the walk. Sunday was an 8-mile walk to the top of Mount Snowden and back down. Day 1 was about endurance, day 2 about a more intense elevation and the whole weekend was our first shot at back-to-back days of raising our walking game. I knew it would be hard, but I was confident my muscles would pull through and after a few days of recovery, I would feel the benefit of stronger leg muscles.
Thanks to a weather warning, day 2 did not happen as planned but even without the weather warning, my feet would not have taken me to the top of Mount Snowden. Blisters that occur as a result of walking will appear as a raised bubble on your foot and will usually be filled with a clear liquid but may be filled with blood.
What causes blisters
Blisters can be caused by several things, of which I am only going to focus on blisters caused as a result of walking. A walking blister will occur because of friction when your foot rubs inside your shoe. This will usually happen because a pair of walking shoes are not yet worn in but can happen if your footwear is not tight enough or if your feet get particularly sweaty when you walk.
What can you do to prevent blisters?
Firstly it is important to ensure you have appropriate footwear, fitted correctly, and sufficiently worn in.
To wear in your walking shoes, wear them regularly over shorter distances or around the house until they begin to feel more comfortable. Increase the distance incrementally at first until you are confident they are worn in. If you know an area of your foot is prone to blisters, try padding the area with a band-aid or Elastoplast.
When I was breaking in a pair of work shoes, I would often wear two pairs of socks and this was effective as it transfers the friction energy away from the skin. However, if you are walking a lot, you may also need to consider the material of your socks. Thankfully, there are plenty of dual-layered socks for walkers and runners that are designed to wick away sweat.
Keeping your feet dry is important too. If you still have some way to walk and your feet are wet, consider a quick bit of maintenance. Carrying a spare pair of socks and some talcum powder can ensure you make it home blister-free.
Alternatively, some people will use petroleum jelly to lubricate their feet but I find sensation irritating on longer walks so it is not an option I use.
What To Do If You Get A Blister
If you are still out walking when you feel the onset, you will want to stop and take action immediately. You will have a few options depending on how far you have got to walk, how bad it hurts and what equipment/supplies you have with you. One thing you do not want to do is ignore it.
Firstly, check if it is infected, if you react quickly to the onset of a blister, it shouldn’t be, but it is possible. If the blister is filled with a yellowy-green liquid and/or your skin around the blister is red it is likely infected. If this is the case, cease your activity and seek medical attention.
If your blister is not infected and as long as it is not too painful, at the very least, you need to rectify the conditions that have caused the blister as these will same conditions will likely cause it to pop. A popped blister is messy and is sore as it is effectively an open wound if the top layer of skin is removed.
Change your socks, dry your feet, and adjust your footwear, this may be enough to allow you to finish your walk on a blistered foot. If you catch it as soon as you feel a tingle, the blister may disappear on its own after a short recovery period of a day or two. I have had small blisters from walking that I have treated by merely stopping them from getting worse mid-walk. I have also had blisters when I have been less than 30 minutes from the end of my walk so I decided to take a chance and regretted it.
If the blister to painful to walk even after you have applied a bit of foot care, you can bandage or pad the blister to make your walk more comfortable. Whether the blister has blood or a clear fluid inside, it is protecting a vulnerable and sore bit of skin so if possible, always try to preserve the blister and it will heal on its own in time.
If you absolutely can not walk on your blister you can pop it but it is important you are careful when doing this. My walking partner was more prone to blisters than I was so he always had a full blister care kit with him. If you do not have the appropriate kit available on your walk, you should consider ending your walk early before popping your blister.
You will need a sterilized sewing needle (rubbing alcohol will be fine to sterilize it), some gauze, and some tape.
Ensuring your hands and your foot are clean, take the sterilized sewing needle and gently pierce the skin on the edge of the blister in multiple places (do not poke the needle into the middle). Use the gauze to absorb the liquid from your blister but leave the skin intact as this will continue to protect the wound. Disinfect and dress the affected area with a clean piece of gauze. Keep it clean for a few days and the skin will eventually dry out and harden. This dead skin will fall off by itself but after a few days, it will safe for you to remove it.
Lower Back Muscular Pain
I am including lower back pain as it is something I recently had direct experience with. If you experience back pain that feels anything other than muscular (for example, it feels like your spine or something internal) then see a GP. Also, if you have ongoing back problems, the pain is excruciating, and/or does not subside after a sufficient recovery period then you should also seek medical attention.
Your lower back is part of your core muscle group and will be engaged during most movement. When you experience back pain it can hurt whether you stand, lay or sit. Not only will it stop your exercise routine in its tracks but back pain can affect your work and your sleep – basically, your life.
What Causes Lower Back Pain
I have never previously had an issue with my back, but when I moved away from London and came to live in Skelton-in-Cleveland, I was quite quickly experiencing pain in my lower back that was not going away. Skelton is built on a hill and I knew this to be the only major change in my life so I was confident that hillwalking was the reason I was experiencing back pain.
After a quick Google search, I deduced that my back pain was because of my form when walking uphill. Because I was used to even ground, I was unconsciously leaning forward at the waist to try to make the ascent easier.
As well as hillwalking, sometimes carrying a bag can lead to poor walking form.
Preventing Lower Back Pain While Walking
When you are walking you want your spine to be straight. If you are walking uphill, you can lean forward from the ankles to adjust your center of gravity, but your back should be straight. Bags should be carried on both shoulders as using a single strap can cause you to walk with a twisted spine and completing core strengthening stretches will decrease your chances of hurting your lower back.
What To Do If You Experience Lower Back Muscular Pain
If I was sure my back pain was caused by hillwalking, I was less sure of why it was not going away. If your back pain is down to form, it should be easy enough just to correct your form and allow your back a sufficient recovery period. However, as your back is so involved in your life, it might take a few more considerations.
At the time of my lower back pain, I was sleeping on a mattress much softer than I was used to and this was resulting in my waking up in more pain every morning. I tried a few different variations of pillow positioning before I found my sweet spot. Although I was finding it difficult to completely rest up, once I started sleeping on my back with a pillow under my bum, my back fully recovered. Of course, now I was working on my form as well, it hasn’t been a problem.
If you are experiencing muscular back pain, you could try repositioning to support your body shape and take the stress off your back when you sleep.
You should also check that your chairs have good lumbar support and avoid slouching.
Don’t Let Walking Pain Defeat You
Raising your walking game may result in some walking pain, and it might be a good thing. However, even if the pain is beneficial to your muscular development, it is your body’s way of saying, “hold fire” so it is important to allow recovery.
Other walking pains such as blisters, may just be an occupational hazard but if you know how to handle them, they certainly don’t need to derail your walking workout routine.
Have you experienced walking pains that threatened to disrupt your routine? Why not join the discussion in the comments below.