Walking and Muscle Pain

Walking can cause or aggravate muscle pain. The pain can result from overstretching, poor conditioning, or a host of other sources. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the discomfort and prevent injuries.

Muscle cramps and spasms. A muscle cramp is an involuntary, powerful, and painful contraction of a muscle. The contraction may occur at any time -- at rest as well as during activity. Cramps usually happen without warning.

Muscle cramps can be caused by fatigue; cold; imbalance of salt, potassium, and water levels in the body; poor blood circulation to the muscles; a sharp blow; and overstretching of unconditioned muscles. You may be able to reduce the odds of getting a muscle cramp by eating a well-balanced diet, by drinking plenty of fluids, by making sure you warm up properly before vigorous exercise, and by stopping activity before you become overly tired.

Once a cramp does occur, you can usually stop it by gently stretching the affected muscle. For instance, to relieve a cramp in your calf muscle, get hold of the toes and ball of your foot and pull them toward your kneecap. You may also want to try kneading the affected muscle firmly.

Usually, a sense of tightness or dull pain will follow a cramp. Applying heat or massaging the area may help relieve this discomfort. If you're plagued by frequent cramps, consult your doctor.

Sprains. Cramps and spasms are painful contractions of muscle tissue. In contrast, a sprain is a partial or complete rupture (tearing) of a muscle, tendon, or ligament, caused by overstretching. Small blood vessels in the area break, and pain develops when the surrounding tissue swells up and stimulates sensitive nerve endings.

To help prevent ankle sprains, you need to watch where you're going. Learn how to pick your way among the potholes and skillfully sidestep any debris in your path. If you do manage to sprain your ankle, you'll have to suspend your walking program until it is healed.

Again, RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) will help bring down the swelling. If it does not improve after use of RICE, or if you are not sure if you have a strain, sprain, or break, see a doctor.

Muscle soreness and stiffness. Even people who have been serious walkers for years complain of some degree of regular soreness and stiffness. The pain is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, and it usually occurs within 24 to 48 hours of physical activity. Often the discomfort lasts for only a few days.

For walkers, the most commonly affected muscles are the calf muscles and front and back muscles of the thigh. DOMS may be the result of small muscle tears and the subsequent inflammation that occurs in the muscle tissue. Taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, or treating the affected area with ice may help ease soreness.

It is practically impossible to completely avoid muscle soreness and stiffness. But you can reduce the intensity of the discomfort by planning your walking program so that you progress gradually, especially during the early stages.

A slow, steady approach will allow the muscles of the body to adapt themselves to the stress placed upon them. If you become sore and stiff from physical activity, do some additional light exercises. Cooling down at the end of each and every workout and massaging the affected areas can also help.

Back pain is another issues walkers may face. Get the lowdown on walking and back injuries in the next section.

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