Walking and Injuries

Leg Injuries and Walking

Walking is a great way to strengthen the legs, but walking incorrectly can cause leg injuries. We've listed some common injuries below, along with their causes and self-treatment tips.

Achilles tendon injuries. The Achilles tendon is the thick tendon at the back of the leg that connects the heel and foot to the back of the calf muscles. It controls the hingelike action of the ankle.

Experts in sports medicine have identified three types of problems with the Achilles tendon. The first is tendinitis, which is an inflammation of the tendon. The second is a partial rupture, which is a tearing of some of the tendon fibers. The third is a complete rupture, or a complete break, of the tendon itself. The last two are not common to walkers, because walking seldom puts enough stress on the tendon to actually tear it.

Tendinitis can be caused by a sudden change in routine, such as abruptly switching to sharp inclines after habitually walking on level terrain or suddenly tackling a long hike without progressing gradually from shorter ones. Symptoms of tendinitis are pain and stiffness an hour or so following activity, tenderness, and slight swelling. Tendinitis makes walking very difficult and painful.

Tendons can also become inflamed as a result of ill-fitting shoes. The heels may be too low or too hard, the backs may be so tight that they irritate or strain the tendon, or the arch support in the shoes may not be adequate.

Choosing a walking shoe with a slightly higher heel or inserting a sponge pad in the heel section of your shoes can help prevent the pain of Achilles tendinitis and of heel spurs, according to Charles Gudas, D.P.M, professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The very act of walking often tightens the tendons even more. To prevent Achilles tendinitis from developing, make sure that you do plenty of stretching when warming up and when cooling down. Stretching exercises can limber up the calf muscles and counteract the tightening effects of walking.

Suggested stretching exercises include standing on the heels of the feet and drawing your toes up as far as possible or standing with your toes on a step and stretching your heels downward. Another good idea is to walk barefoot whenever possible--preferably indoors, so you won't have to worry about stepping on sharp objects.

Self-treatment of tendinitis is summarized by the acronym RICE -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If it hurts, stop the activity and rest. Place an ice pack (covered in a thin towel) or a cold compress on the affected area. Then wrap it in a flexible bandage (not too tight), and sit or lie down with your leg elevated. Remember, pain is a message that your body is sending to you. Don't ignore it.

Continue to the next section for information on painful shin splints and knee problems.

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