As warmer weather eliminates the snow and ice on streets and pathways, many walkers leave the treadmill behind to spring into action outdoors. Walking up and down terrain can increase muscle strength but also increases risk of injury. Prevent shin splints and sprained ankles by taking some precautions.
- Progress gradually. If you are changing from indoor to outdoor walking, which uses muscles in a different way, don't increase the length or speed of your walk until your ankle, calf and leg muscles adjust.
- Warm up muscles by walking at a slower/moderate pace on a level surface for five minutes to begin.
- Cool down by walking five minutes at a slower pace and gently stretch leg and foot muscles. Breathe deeply and hold each stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website illustrates flexibility stretches.
- Wear good shoes that support the foot well. Replace your shoes every 300-500 miles to avoid the wear and tear that can contribute to injuries.
- Pay attention to uneven walking surfaces to help prevent twisting of the foot. Also avoid cement paving and steep declines, which tend to increase risk of shin splints.
- Avoid the "weekend warrior" temptation. Cramming all fitness activities into just two days of the week increases risk of injury.
- Listen to your body. If you feel pain, particularly if it increases or comes on earlier in your walk, limit your activity and contact your doctor.
Sore muscles often come with a change in exercise routine but should subside in just a day or two. Walking is one of the safest exercises but when injury does happen, do not exercise an injured muscle. If you experience an injury while walking, follow the RICE prescription and call your healthcare provider:
- Rest means to take body weight off the muscle and refrain from intense use of that muscle—not walking or reducing the intensity or duration of walking for a few days.
- Ice the strained muscle for 15-20 minutes four times a day to prevent excess swelling and inflammation.
- Compression means to use a wrap bandage or wear support socks to prevent swelling and further stress on the ankle or knee.
- Elevate the leg or ankle that is injured at/above the level of your heart. This can be done when applying ice or a cold pack to the injury.
A shin splint is an injury that occurs from repeated trauma such as hiking down a three mile mountain trail. Once this injury happens it will take special care to get "back in shape" and walking pain free. Remember to gradually "spring" into action outdoors to prevent injury.
Sprains and Strains, National Institutes of Health
Preventing Injury During Your Workout, American Heart Association
Warm Up, Cool Down and Be Flexible, American Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons
This newsletter has been peer reviewed. It was originally written by Jamie Goffena and updates/reviewed in 2021.