Has walking for exercise been suggested as an activity for you, but the actual doing
of it causes pain in the knees, back, hips or even torso? Have you seen the people
who seem to glide over the pavement and wonder what they are doing differently
than you? Perhaps you had a toe injury or even a shoulder injury and without
realizing it, the rest of your body began compensating for the injured area and then
–boom – you have bursitis in the hips or some other niggling pain and the idea of
strolling through the neighborhood no longer thrills you.
Walking with ease involves a coordination of the whole body. Our pelvis and legs
need an assist from the torso and the arms. The joints and bones act as shock
absorbers and send the force of the foot’s impact on the ground into the soft tissue
along the pathways determined by the joints. As the shock travels upward, our
muscles and fascia help to keep our brain from rattling on each step.
Since our bodies were designed to move and function in a specific manner, if we
change any of the details, we change the pathways and efficiency. These changes
may make walking an uncomfortable experience or unknowingly be contributing to
some of our health issues.
Take a look at your feet; do they turn out away from each other? If so you may be
contributing to bunions and hammertoes. You are also changing the way some joints
were designed to function and thus changing the pathways up the chain into the rest
of the body.
Do you commute to your job and then spend much of your time in a chair? If so you
are in a perpetual state of hip flexion, which is shortening the muscles connecting
the thigh to the pelvis and torso. You may no longer have the ability to sufficiently
extend your leg behind you without excessive pelvis twisting. This is limiting the
push-off during walking and causing you to take small steps – again changing
Can you stand up straight on one leg for 60 seconds without falling over? If not, your
hips may be lacking strength. Since walking requires us to be on one leg during 80%
of the gait cycle, you may be compensating by “falling forward” and overusing the
To make walking more enjoyable, more efficient and less painful try some of the
Keep your torso upright, don’t let it get in front of you. This is using gravity to move
you forward and your joints are overworking to soften the landing. Your core
musculature is involved here so if you are weak in the core, holding yourself upright
may be difficult.
Work on your feet – move all the toes, arches and ankle joints. Yes – all your toes
should be able to move independently of each other and the feet should point
straight ahead when you are walking.
Beef up the buttocks muscles. The gluteal muscles are not there to make you look
better in jeans, they keep you from falling off to the side when you walk.
Stretch and activate the hamstrings – the muscles you sit on a good portion of the
time are the ones that push back to propel you forward. They need to be at their full
length to do the actual job of moving us forward.
Open up your Hip Flexors – all that sitting is also not allowing your thigh to move
back behind you with ease.
Don’t land on a bent knee when you send the leg in front of you. This is that bopping
up and down motion you see and is a surefire way to aggravate the knee joint.
Bopping is an indicator of lack of hip and outer leg strength.
So if the doctor advises you to walk more for your health, but walking feels like it is
doing more harm than good, check in with a professional that can help you analyze
your gait, make adjustments and recommendations and make the changes that you
need so that you can head out onto all the trails accessible to us in the Asheville area.
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