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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,
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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