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Backpacker Magazine – August 2011

How to Walk

Yes, there's a better way to put one foot in front of the other. Improve your stride, trek farther, and end leg and back pain with our guide to the new science of healthy hiking.

Diagnose Your Problem
Use this troubleshooting table to fix common foot and leg injuries.
  Symptoms Cause Solution
Strained calves Burning pain, weakness, and cramping. Similar: an inflamed Achilles tendon, which causes soreness that radiates up from the heel. Putting too much strain on muscles and tendons by overloading the calves—especially during extended uphill hiking—rather than sharing the propulsion with other, bigger muscles, like quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Focus on strengthening glutes and hip muscles. If your glutes are strong, they will automatically kick into action on uphill hikes and prevent the smaller lower leg muscles from being injured by overuse. For immediate relief: RICE* and massage.
Rolling an ankle A painful, swollen sprain after you trip on a rabbit hole or rock. Short-term, one ankle roll often leads to another, as the ligament is over-stretched. The culprit is often one or more weak leg muscles that cause an unstable foot and ankle. The foot overpronates (rolls in) or over-supinates (rolls out)—which can lead to an ankle sprain with or without a rabbit hole. Strengthen your lower legs and feet, and incorporate balance exercises into your routine. Hikers who have pronation and supination issues will benefit from insoles that provide lateral stability. Chronic ankle roller? Wear high-cut boots.
Sore quads
and/or knees
Sharp pain and cramping in the knees and related thigh area. A tight IT band often causes soreness on the outside of the knee and lower thigh. Downhill hiking with a heavy pack is murder on weak knees and quads.Poor alignment of the hip, knee, and ankles can contribute to knee pain as well. Hikers with different-length legs are likely to have alignment issues. Use trekking poles to decrease impact. Improve alignment and foot strike with good form. Also, strengthen core muscles so that your torso stabilizes pack weight, reducing strain on legs and knees. Stretch your IT band.
Hip bursitis Localized pain caused by inflammation of the soft tissue overlying the hip. Hurts like hell with every step. When you go from an office chair to hiking 10 miles a day while carrying a 35-pound pack—without sufficient training, as some of us do—your hips are bound to be a weak point. They’ll hurt, and cause gait problems. Strengthen and stretch hip muscles, with emphasis on abductors (isolate these muscles with single-leg balance exercises). Stretch IT band. And improve stability by training with a balance board ($35, fitter1.com).
Metatarsalgia This pain under the metatarsal heads—the bones just before the toes—feels like a sharp rock in your shoe. It’s often mistaken for an inflamed nerve. Shoes that are too cramped in the forefoot or have too much flex can concentrate the pressure under the forefoot and result in pain. Forefoot striking or just long days on the trail can also exacerbate metatarsal stress. Redistribute foot pressure more evenly. Insoles help, as do shoes that allow the toes to spread and function more effectively for shock absorption. Metatarsal pads (available at most drug stores) help prevent pressure from being concentrated on the ball.
Plantar fasciitis Pain can range from a whole-foot ache to a stabbing sensation in the base of the heel. Often hurts most when you step out of bed in the morning. The plantar fascia, the band of connective tissue running the length of the foot, links the heel to toes and supports the arch. When it becomes inflamed from overuse, you might have trouble even standing. Train your feet for higher mileage (rule of thumb: increase distance by 10-15 percent per week). Massage to work out scar tissue: Roll the bottom of your foot over a hard plastic water bottle (for added therapeutic effect, freeze the water).

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Aly
Apr 19, 2012

GREAT article. I leave basically untrained - for the Camino de Santiago next week - this will at least give me things to think about whilst walking:)

Aly
Apr 19, 2012

GREAT article. I leave basically untrained - for the Camino de Santiago next week - this will at least give me things to think about whilst walking:)

MandalaRunning@gmail.com
Mar 25, 2012

Confirmed: Check Barefoot Running for the Complete Idiot. When Foot strikes, first thing that happens is an outside heal strike. Further as this article demonstrates foot then rolls to the inside heal while almost at same time engaging little toe-mound, then back momentarily to the inside heal while progressing to big toe mound to a big toe lift-off. Each of the four corners of the foot engage a complete kinetic chain from foot to top of head. Hands follow same sequence as foot while running. A complete fluid flow of the body in motion occurs. This is very important stuff to review in both walking and running to identify compensations culturally induced, or through injury or stress.

pjcamp
Mar 19, 2012

Why am I hearing bagpipes when I look at your "take the test" guy?

John Parry
Mar 19, 2012

The description of how to walk reminds me of racewalking. It is not that the stride on level ground is short, but that there is less of the stride is in front of the body and more of the stride is behind the body. Also when you are using your hips as described the effect is your overall stride length is longer.

Darren
Mar 17, 2012

Why no mention of shin-splints and stress fractures and how to prevent them? It's a very common long distance hiking injury.

Also, enough with the barefoot fad already.

Bear
Mar 17, 2012

I have been hiking barefoot consistently for a couple years, and can generally do it every season but winter (and as long as the ground isn't very wet, a pair or two of wool socks help). I have always hated shoes and wear then as little as possible. I guess it isn't for everyone, but I find the sensation of feeling the trail is just as exciting as the sights and sounds. I also feel like I am making less of a negative impact. I have to be conscious of where I step rather than clumsily tromping through the bush.

Eric
Mar 16, 2012

Short strides can lead to blisters due to overheating. So it's best in my opinion to find a good balance, not just start taking baby steps as recommended here.

Jay
Mar 16, 2012

You're kidding...??? Maybe backpacker will teach me how to dress myself as well...

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