How To Move Without Pain

5 Walking Mistakes that are Stopping You in Your Tracks

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 8 minutes to read

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Walking is one of the most underrated and accessible exercise activities we can do. It can be done indoors, outdoors, on a treadmill. The investment is small and can be done anywhere. Walking uses many muscles at the same time, while also giving the body practice in coordination, balance, endurance, and strength.

A regular walking routine can have lasting benefits on our musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neuromuscular systems. Walking is considered a low-impact activity, causing minimal joint stress, and the pace can be self-selected allowing most people to participate despite a chronic illness or autoimmune diseases.

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Walking for exercise has many physical and mental benefits. 

  • Muscle strengthening. Walking can help increase muscle strength and endurance, especially as walking mileage and speed is gradually increased. 
  • More energy. Exercise walking can improve your body’s muscle mass, cardiovascular health, and metabolism. Helping to increase your energy levels. 
  • Better lung health. Walking causes lung expansion, helping you to ‘clean out the pipes’ and improve your lung health. 
  • Improved circulation. Circulation improves lower extremity blood flow and overall vascular tension with the activity. As muscles contract and relax with walking, they squeeze around the large veins in the legs, promoting healthy circulation and reduce stagnant blood flow. 
  • Improved digestion. Research has shown walking can help can help speed up the time it takes for food to move from the stomach into the small intestines. 
  • Greater core strength. Walking can benefit the abdominal muscles because they need to be engaged to help support the low back. 
  • Fewer tension headaches. Exercise is a known stress reliever, increasing your activity with walking and exercise helps to reduce stress and headaches. Walking also makes you get up and get away from your desk, change position throughout your body, and relieve stress that builds in the shoulders, back, and neck. 
  • Better balance. When you walk properly with the correct posture, it may help improve your balance and make you less prone to falling. As your walking routine progresses, you may see increased walking speeds which helps your body practice quick weight shifting, the swing of the legs, and balance reaction. 

While walking is an easy exercise to begin, you will want to avoid common mistakes to avoid injury and unnecessary stress on joints. 

Improper Footwear

Proper footwear to support the arch and heel while taking step after step during walking is important. Shoes support the proper heel strike to help push the foot through each stride. Proper shoes are supportive with shock absorption and proper cushioning. Shoes that are not supportive can cause arch pain, calf tension, knee pain, even hip pain or back pain. 

Finding a local shoe store that can complete standing and walking assessments can help find a walking sneaker that can provide the correct cushion and support for individual needs. 

Not Using Proper Posture

Walking with the right technique isn’t difficult, but it does take being mindful of how you move.  Having awareness of head position to ensure your head weight isn’t causing added tension to your neck and upper back is a good place to start. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, not letting them rise during walking can also help reduce upper back stress. Maintaining a tall posture without being stiff or robotic when you walk can also help reduce stress in the low back 

Keys to proper walking posture: 

  • Stand tall
  • Keep your eyes looking forward in front of you, so you can see obstacles as they come
  • Maintain relaxed shoulders, keeping them back and down.
  • Let your arms swing from your shoulders 

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Stepping with Improper Form

Walking properly requires a heel-to-toe pattern. This involves striking the ground with your heel, pushing through your foot followed by pushing off from your big toe. This pattern helps maintain proper momentum and technique throughout the lower limb when walking for exercise or function. 

Walking Too Much Too Soon

Walking is one of the most common activities we complete but if we begin a walking routine for exercise, we can easily do too much without proper rest in-between. This could cause joint pain, or joint inflammation, muscle soreness, or joint connective tissue (tendon or ligament) irritation. This can occur if you increase your mileage too quickly. This can also occur if you don’t give your body enough rest between walking sessions. 

The best rule to follow: If are sore, use ice after a walk. If you’re still sore the next day, consider taking a break or try a shorter walk until you recover and are not having increased pain. 

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Not Walking Fast Enough

Walking is a full-body activity. From maintaining proper upper body posture to wearing the correct shoes all the muscles are working together creating the correct movements. Walking should be done at a comfortable pace. Try to maintain a consistent pace, and avoid walking too slow as this can actually lead to  increased energy used by the muscles and quicker fatigue, and possibly even poorer balance.

Walking for exercise requires a quick enough pace to increase heart rate and cardiovascular work. A leisurely stroll won’t get your heart rate up enough to progress your fitness levels the way a faster walk will.

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Walking has many benefits to your joints, muscles, heart length, and overall maintenance of your function. Walking for exercises is one of the best activities we can do to help ourselves stay strong and mobile. Proper technique is important to maintain proper technique, posture, and joint health.  When the joints feel good and your muscles feel strong you will continue to walk for exercise. Walking for exercise will help maintain or reduce your weight, improve your strength, balance, and joint mobility.  As with any new exercise routine, if you have any questions or concerns talk to your health care provider.

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*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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