For all the health benefits associated with going for a brisk morning stroll, walking is about much more than simply putting one foot in front of the other. And doing it wrong can cause a multitude of problems, from lower back pain to repeated stress on bones and joints.
Feeling those aches and pains? Ditch the stilettos and analyze your gait. These common walking mistakes could be the root of it all.
Many people have a tendency to step out farther than required when increasing walking speed. Often find yourself speed walking around town due to perceived busyness? Check your gait. Over-striding throws off your natural walking rhythm, leading to a straighter knee and harder heel strike, which puts pressure on the feet.
How to Fix It: Take shorter, quicker steps and focus on rolling through your step by getting a good “push off” with the back foot.
NOT USING YOUR ARMS
The way you use your arms is actually a huge part of walking with good form. Keeping your arms still at your sides or swinging them wildly can slow you down. In fact, walking without much swing in the arm can be a red flag for a lack of spinal support!
How to Fix It: Bend your arms at a 90 degree angle and let them swing naturally and easily, with your shoulders relaxed.
It may sound like a joke, but “foot slap” is actually a pretty common walking abnormality in which muscle weakness of the anterior tibial muscle or perineal muscles causes the foot to literally slap the ground while walking. A healthy stride starts with a heel strike, then a smooth roll through the foot as it lowers to the ground.
How to Fix It: First, check with your doctor to see if you have a compressed nerve or ruptured disk. If not, avoid crossing your legs while sitting in order to prevent disruption of the perineal nerve, and practice walking with proper form.
WALKING WITH YOUR HEAD DOWN
Walk tall, walk long, walk loose. Maintaining an upright posture is an important part of proper walking form, as it reduces tension in the neck and allows you to relax your hips and loosen lower back muscles. In the reverse, walking with your head down actually forces the body to work a lot harder to maintain alignment.
How to Fix It: Focus on walking with your head held high, as if you are a ballerina, or a puppet with a string running from the top of your head to your toes.
OVERPRONATION OR SUPINATION
Mild pronation, in which the outside edge of the foot and heel hits the ground before the inside edge — is a normal part of walking or running. Overpronation, however, can cause extreme stress or inflammation on the foot, causing discomfort over time.
Similarly, supination — the opposite extreme, in which the weight of the body rolls onto the outer edges of the feet — also causes issues with alignment, leading to pain in the ankle and along the outside of the leg.
How to Fix It: Check your footwear for arch support and shock absorption, ditch rigid, worn out, or tight shoes, and work with a podiatrist or physical therapist to correct the issue and prevent injury.
Have you seen a podiatrist before? What did you learn about yourself?