We have all heard about the many health benefits of walking.
Experts tell us that just 15-30 minutes of walking per day can greatly improve our physical and mental well-being.
And, with sunny weather headed our way, many of us are looking forward to more time outdoors to enjoy neighborhood walks and trails in our area.
But people often give little thought to properly preparing and protecting their feet prior to lacing up.
EvergreenHealth foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Peter Lallas shares how some simple preparation can help us avoid common foot health pitfalls.
Why is walking harder on our feet than one would think?
Dr. Peter Lallas: While walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise, walking for long periods of time or long distances, especially without proper preparation or footwear, can be hard on support structures in the feet, ankles and shins.
Feet and ankles can swell or become sore, and tired walkers can twist an ankle, develop Plantar fasciitis, tendonitis or rupture an Achilles tendon. Lack of proper foot care can also cause existing structural foot deformities such as bunions to worsen.
Left untreated, these conditions can hamper your ability to perform daily activities, let alone walk for exercise.
For example, Plantar fasciitis, which is tenderness on your heel or bottom of foot, is particularly common. When strained, small tears develop and the tissue stiffens as a protective response, causing foot pain.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to getting out and walking?
Dr. Lallas: One of the biggest mistakes I see is people who wear ill-fitting or worn-out shoes.
When you increase activity with shoes that are worn out, it puts abnormal bio-mechanical stress on the foot that can lead to damage to the ligaments, tendons, or joints.
Another common problem is trying to do too much too soon; the risk of injury is especially high for individuals who do not engage in regular exercise.
You’ll decrease your likelihood of injury if you gradually increase the intensity and duration.
There are many trends right now in footwear, or lack thereof, for walking…we see the super lightweight shoes, those funky toe-separated shoes and even hear about the whole ‘barefoot’ trend. How can people make the right choice for walking?
Dr. Lallas: If you are walking for exercise, I recommend that you have a dedicated shoe for walking and that you replace those shoes every 400 miles or eight months.
This will ensure that they don’t become worn down.
When shopping for shoes, start by going to a store with knowledgeable staff who can help you select a shoe that:
Are there any other steps we can take to walk injury-free?
Dr. Lallas: Just like taking time to warm up before a run or a game, stretching before a walk can make a big difference by readying the muscles and their surrounding ligaments and tendons.
At least 10 minutes of simple stretches will help loosen up your muscles and get your body prepared.
Also, if you haven’t exercised in a while, you might experience some initial discomfort and sometimes old injuries can pop up again when restarting an activity such as walking.
However, if the pain persists or gets worse, then you should stop the activity and lay off the exercise for a week.
You can often help alleviate discomfort by elevating the foot and icing it or soaking it in cool water.
If the pain continues after a week of rest, it’s time to visit a podiatrist for a medical evaluation.
Also, despite a popular misconception that I often hear from patients, foot pain is not normal as you get older. If you’re experiencing foot pain that is keeping you from enjoying your favorite activities, I would encourage you to seek out the help of a specialist.
And finally, is there any circumstance where flip-flops are acceptable?
Dr. Lallas: While I wouldn’t ever recommend walking long distances in flip-flops, you’d be surprised to find some very good flip-flop options at specialized shoe stores.
In particular, you should look for options that provide arch support and have some stiffness to them.
These are great for wearing around the house, at the pool or on the beach or for light walking.
Dr. Peter Lallas is a board-certified podiatric surgeon with EvergreenHealth Foot & Ankle Care. His professional interests include the treatment of acute injuries, sports injuries and reconstructive surgery of chronic or congenital conditions.