Stege's Podiatric Topics - Sports


Everybody's Doing It


Walking. Everybody's doing it. In fact, about 67 million Americans of all ages walk for exercise on a regular basis. Walking can be enjoyed anywhere, and it's an excellent way to bring the family together and enjoy the great outdoors, or to collect one's thoughts away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Walking at a brisk pace for regular exercise helps condition the body and improve overall cardiovascular health the same way running and jogging does. But compared with running, exercise walking carries a significantly lower risk of injury.

Exercise walking doesn't repeatedly pound the knees and ankles, leading to injuries of the joints and bones, nor does it wreak havoc on the knees as running can. Even people with arthritis, or those recovering from heart attacks can exercise walk with the approval of a doctor.

Benefits of Exercise Walking


The fundamental health benefits of exercise walking are many. Metabolically, it helps control weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. A brisk walk can burn up to 100 calories per mile or 300 calories per hour. Walking is the perfect complement to a sensible diet to lose weight and keep it off.

Walking improves cardiovascular fitness. As an aerobic exercise, walking gets the heart beating faster to transport oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the muscles. The heart and lungs grow more efficient with a regular walking regimen, reducing blood pressure and the resting heart rate. Walking is even a central element of medical rehabilitation. Recovery from many ailments, including heart attack, is facilitated by a regular walking regimen.

For people with poor circulation to the arms and legs, walking can increase the size and improve the efficiency of the tiny vessels that supply blood for cellular respiration. Anyone diagnosed with poor circulation should see a doctor before beginning exercise walking.

Psychologically, walking generates an overall feeling of well-being, and can relieve depression, anxiety, and stress by naturally producing endorphins, the body's natural tranquilizer. A brisk walk will relax you and stimulate your thinking.

If you are more than 40 years old and have any problems with weight, respiration, blood pressure, pulse rate, or cholesterol, check with your doctor before walking. The same goes for diabetics, smokers, or people with preexisting injuries or a family history of heart problems.

On Your Feet


The ideal walking shoe should be stable from side to side, and well-cushioned, and it should enable you to walk smoothly. Many running shoes fit all of these criteria well, and for most people are acceptable for a walking program.

However, there are specialty walking shoes that may work well for you. These tend to be slightly less cushioned, yet not as bulky, and lighter than running shoes.

Most important, whether you are wearing a walking or running shoe, is that it must feel stable to you. Either type of shoe is acceptable if it works well with your foot mechanics, providing cushioning and stability.

Shoes should always feel comfortable and fit well in the store. Don't cut corners on your shoe budget; buying shoes is the only real expenditure necessary for the sport, so treat your feet well. Visit the shoe store late in the afternoon, when your feet are slightly swollen (this is when you'll likely be walking, anyway).

Wear the same socks to the store that you will wear while walking. Try on at least four or five pairs of shoes. Put on and lace both shoes of each pair and walk around for a minute or two.

Remember that every shoe manufacturer uses a different basic shoe shape, or "last." Some lasts are shorter or longer than others of the same size; some fit a wide foot perfectly, while others are cut for a slimmer foot.

Before buying, check the shoe's quality with the vertical heel test. Place the shoe on the store's counter and make sure the heel is straight up when looking at it from the back. Is the midsole well-connected to the upper? Is the stitching complete? Check inside the shoe for any irregular bumps.

When the shoes are on your feet, the heel should be snug. If it slides in the store, it will slide while you are walking. You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoe, and there should be one half to a full thumb's width between the end of the longest toe on your longer foot and the end of the shoe's toe box. Make sure your ankles don't roll in the shoes.

If you have bunions or other special considerations, consult your podiatrist about the best shoe for you. If you have prescription inserts, substitute your insert for the existing one (most shoes have a removable insole) to make sure it will fit properly, if possible.

Foot Care for Walking


Good general foot care must be maintained if you plan to subject your feet to a walking regimen. Wear thick, absorbent socks (acrylic is preferable to cotton); dry feet well after bathing, paying special attention to the toes, and use powder before putting on shoes. Nails should be cut regularly, straight across the toe.

Podiatrists warn that self-treatment of corns and calluses with over-the-counter remedies before starting to walk can do more harm than good. Serious maladies like bunions and hammertoes absolutely should be evaluated by a foot care specialist before you begin to walk for aerobic exercise.

If blisters develop, self-treatment by opening the blister with a sterilized needle and draining the fluid is acceptable. Do not remove the "roof" of the blister. Cover the treated blister with antibiotic ointment to guard against infection.

Hitting the Road


Before you get going, a series of loosening-up exercises will help alleviate any muscle stiffness or pulled muscles that may be ahead of you. Consult your podiatrist for some specific ways to loosen up the heel cords (Achilles and calf) and thigh muscles (quadriceps in front and hamstrings in back).

Take five deep breaths for each slow stretch, and hold the stretched muscle firm without bouncing. After every walk, stretch again to improve circulation and decrease buildup of lactic acid, the chemical byproduct that causes muscles to ache.

Setting appropriate goals is vital to a successful walking program. First, make walking a habit. Start slowly, with five or 10-minute walks three to five times a week. As walks get longer, their frequency can be adjusted.

Before you know it, you'll be making time for weekly walks wherever you are. But don't overdo it. Starting too quickly and getting injured or uncomfortably sore can sour you on the whole idea before it's had a chance to work its magic on your mind and body.

Start your walks slowly, and gradually work up to a brisk speed that will cover a mile in 15 minutes (that's four miles per hour). Measure a one-mile stretch, record your time, and see how you improve as the weeks go by.

To get significant benefits from walking, you must eventually be able to walk 20 minutes at a brisk pace without stopping. Walks shouldn't last more than an hour. Calculate your week's total walking time in minutes, then try to increase it by 10 percent each week. A starting regimen should involve walking at least three times per week, but never exceeding five times a week. Walking every day denies the body the rest time it needs to repair minor injuries, and could lead to more serious ones.

Race Walking


The sport of race walking has been an Olympic event at distances of 12.5 and 31 miles since 1908. Race walking is little more than moving as fast as possible while keeping one foot on the ground at all times.

For the walker with the competitive spirit, this is an enjoyable and relatively injury-safe sport. For fitness, the increased pace improves the aerobic benefits of walking, since it increases the heart rate.

Race walkers should be aware that more aches and pains are likely to crop up with the faster pace during training. The hips are used to increase stride length, causing the characteristic wiggle of the race-walking form, and occasionally fatigue or bursitis can set in. Race walkers try to keep hip sway to a minimum to avoid these problems.

While race walkers face few of the knee problems runners do, sometimes excessive straightening of the knees strains the muscles and tendons behind the knee. If knees hurt after race-walk training, they are probably too forcefully extended or your strides are too long.

Shin splints, caused by inflammation of the shin muscles, are a common side effect of race walking. For immediate relief, use cold compresses after walking. Reducing stride length, stretching the muscles, and continuing to train should increase muscle strength enough to alleviate the pain. It is helpful to reduce your normal time by 50 percent until the pain subsides.

Because race walkers use the Achilles tendons and calf muscles to push forward with each step, pain in these areas is common. Increased stretching will help work the stiffness out, but also check your shoes, and make sure the sole is flexible enough to bend at the ball of the foot. A shoe with a half-inch heel will help with chronic Achilles and calf muscle pain. Switching from a walking shoe to a running shoe with a higher heel can be helpful in this case. An over-the-counter heel lift can also help.

If you experience pain in the arch, make sure your foot is not rolling in at its heel. Check to make sure the heel cup of your shoe is holding it steady. If pain persists, an orthotic device prescribed by your podiatrist will hold the heel in a more efficient position.

Pain in the ball of the foot probably means your shoes do not have enough padding. Check the shoe, and if needed insert a shock absorbing athletic insole or a prescribed orthotic device.

(c) Copyright 1996 - David C. Stege, DPM - All rights reserved.