Walking and Injuries

More Walking Leg Injuries

Here are a few more leg injuries that walkers should look out for.

Shinsplints. If you have shinsplints, you will feel pain at the front of the leg, below the knee, when you put weight on your foot. You'll probably also find that your shin is tender to the touch. When you run your fingers along the shin, you may feel a roughened area along the bone.

Although the name implies damage to the shinbone, shinsplints may actually be caused by a variety of problems, including a muscle imbalance; improper body mechanics while walking; a hairline fracture of one of the bones in the lower leg; a muscle spasm caused by swelling of the muscle in the front of the leg; an inflamed or torn tendon in the lower leg; or irritation of the membrane between the two bones of the lower leg.

You can help prevent shinsplints by choosing your footwear and walking surfaces carefully. Sturdy shoes with cushioned soles are a must. If possible, switch from a hard walking surface to a soft one. (At a golf course or local park you can work out on the grass, which is much softer than pavement or track.) You may also want to put a sponge heel pad in the heel section of your shoe to help absorb some of the stress from walking on harder surfaces.

If you walk on a track (or on the side of a road, which, like tracks, tend to have a slight slant), vary the direction of your walks. In other words, instead of always going clockwise, walk counterclockwise on alternate days so that you're not always placing stress on the inside of the same leg.

Walking does a great deal to strengthen the muscles in the back of the leg, but it does less for those in the front. As a result, a muscle imbalance can occur. To compensate, you'll want to strengthen the muscles in the front. Flexing your foot up and down while wearing weights can help.

If you don't have weights to strap onto your feet, sit with your legs dangling, feet not touching the floor, and have a friend hold your feet while you try to pull your toes up. Do this for three sets of ten each day.

The knee. The two main bones that come together at the knee joint are the thighbone and the shinbone. Usually, knee pains are associated with the kneecap -- beneath it or along its sides. Sometimes the kneecap doesn't move smoothly against the lower end of the thighbone as it should, and the knee becomes increasingly irritated and swollen as you walk.

If you have this problem, you may have to limit your walking. But first experiment with different walking methods. Many doctors think knee problems may be caused or aggravated by the way your foot strikes the ground when you walk. (If you walk indoors on a banked track in one direction for long distances, say 20 to 25 laps, your knees may be headed for trouble. Even subtle slopes can cause knee problems.)

Many walkers and runners develop a painful affliction called runner's knee, in which the kneecap moves from side to side with each step. Runner's knee is most often caused when a foot collapses inward during walking (or running). When the foot collapses, the lower leg rotates inward and the kneecap moves to the inside. Repeated foot strikes will adversely affect the knee.

Treatment usually consists of inserting orthotics in the shoes. It's also important for the walker to do leg exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles on the front of the thighs.

It's important to stretch correctly, however, to avoid injuring the muscles. Muscle problems, including spasms and cramps, are discussed in detail in the next section.

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