Are mall walkers still a thing? As a child, I thought it funny that anyone walk for exercise, but as a mom of two, walking has become my preferred method of exercise, especially if I want to catch up with a  friend and keep moving, literally. Instead of drinks, I love going walking with a friend and after dinner strolls are our family’s way of connecting and giving our dog a much-needed adventure. There’s a lot of variation in walking for exercise and Pamela Ziegenfus, PT, OC with OrthoCarolina set me on the right path by dispelling some myths about this low-impact exercise, giving me a few helpful reminders I would not have considered.

Here’s what I learned:

  1.   What’s the deal with stride? – what should we be thinking about?

Stride is important. If you over stride ~ take longer steps, it increases the heel strike and is harder for the hip to stabilize. If  the step increases ~ you speed up your stride too much, chances for Achilles problems, plantar fasciitis, IT band problems and lateral hip problems such as bursitis increase. A comfortable stride is recommended, which varies from person to person, as flexibility, strength and leg length are factors that influence stride length.

[FYI, Step length is the distance from the initial contact point of one foot to the initial contact point of your other foot. Stride length is the distance from the initial contact point of one foot to the next initial contact point of the same foot.]

  1. Is it “the faster the better” when it comes to walking – is speed walking the way to go?

Faster isn’t always better. When you walk fast you can over stride which can make changes in the kinetic chain, foot, knee, hip, and back. Speed walking increases heel strike, forces your knees into hyperextension which can cause heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and knee pain. So, pick a comfortable pace for your body and just walk for longer periods of time rather than pushing your limits and flirting with injury. 

  1. What types of shoes are gimmicky, ones to avoid when starting a walking program?

Finding the correct shoe is difficult. The wrong shoes can impact your gait. Ideally, you want to strike with your heel and roll through your foot. Walking in flip flops increases your chances to get plantar fasciitis because they force you to grab with your toes. Make sure you properly size your shoes and that there is enough room in the toe box to reduce excessive toe extension. Check the bottom of your shoes, and if the first layer is worn through, time to update your walking shoes. A shoe that matches your pronation type: under pronation/supination often caused by high arches, neutral pronation regular arches, overpronation low arches/ flat feet. Do not buy shoes in the morning because feet swell during the day, avoid shoes that need to be broken in, and make sure the shoes are specifically for walking.

  1. What about pace – how long, how fast, how quickly should someone increase their speed, mileage, etc.?

When starting a walking program, it is better to use varying speeds. To improve your endurance. Start off by walking your normal speed for several minutes. Increase your speed for 1-2 minutes. Alternate until you reach your desired amount of time. To progress, do less regular walking and longer periods of faster walking. Increase your amount of faster walking by 10% per week to allow your body to adjust.

  1. What types of surfaces are best for walking programs – treadmills, road vs. sidewalk, trails?

The best surfaces for walking are sidewalks, greenways. Avoid walking on the side of the road as repetitive balancing on the crown of the road can lead to foot, hip or back pain. Treadmills are a nice surface and easier way to regulate your speed. Watch adding an incline which can change the alignment and add increased forces in your foot, knee, hip, and low back.

  1. If someone has a low or high arch, how can they be sure to change their step in order to prevent injury?

The best way to determine if you have a high or low arch is to do the wet foot test. Step in water and walk barefoot across a surface and see how much of your foot is hitting the ground. If most of your foot is showing you have a low arch, if only your heel and toes show you have a high arch. Repeat walking barefoot and pay attention to how much weight you’re putting on your heel and then your toes as you step forward. Also notice if you’re walking on the inside or the outside of your foot. Try and walk evenly on both feet.

  1. How does walking affect alignment – good and bad – hip/back/posture, etc?

Alignment is important. We all have a dominant side and the muscles on that side can be more developed. That can cause changes in the alignment from the pelvis down to the foot. Also if you over pronate that adds a valgus stress at the knee and increased stress on the hip. If someone has high arches and supinates that will cause a varus stress at the knee and hip.

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If you’d like to learn more about walking and how to do so considering the impact on your joints, check out OrthoCarolina’s online resources here.

For more information, contact a professional at OrthoCarolina.


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