Bryan Baisinger, DC is a chiropractor providing sports medicine care in Portland, OR at Clearwater Clinic. He is a team physician for Portland State University Athletics Department. He works with all levels of performance from beginners to Olympic athletes.
*The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose or treat ANY medical condition. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise or treatment.
How to Be Successful
With a New Walking Program
By Bryan Baisinger
For most people new to a walking program a wish over time becomes a desire and then a goal is formed and finally action taken. It is important to keep the end goal in mind during the journey, especially at the beginning. As a clinician with a specialty in sports medicine I have the opportunity to help many people with their training aches and pains, which often prevent them from reaching their walking goals. Goals described include everything from wanting to walk an 11:30 mile at a 50k event to just wanting to beat their coach and modest ones such as just wanting to walk their dog without hip pain.
Pain is an important indicator, not a measure of function. To control pain it is important to understand why the pain is happening and how to make necessary corrections. Walking has a technique unique to each individual and the speed and time of the walker performing it. Many walking injuries are not from overuse but misuse, especially when they are on one side of the body. Common technical issues that might eventually cause pain include altered arm swing, too long of a stride, wearing the wrong shoes, and problems with foot placement.
Coaching can be very helpful in eliminating technical problems from an inefficient gait pattern. Alterations in walking gait function might be ignored during training and when pain occurs somewhere it is natural to think the site of pain is the problem. Pain is the mechanical and chemical tipping point when your body communicates “enough.” It is a message that what you are doing or have done needs attention. Reasonable pain with mild to moderate levels of training should self-resolve within one to three days of familiar exercise and up four to five days if the motion patterning is new. Recovery is aided from the basics of adequate restful sleep, nutrition, and stretching.
If you take medications with potential muscle and joint pain side effects or have a condition that can worsen with exercise, it is important to talk with your prescribing physician about your exercise activities and goals.
Keep in mind that new or acute pain is a sensation that can show up shortly after a mechanical or chemical dysfunction has occurred. For a simple illustration of this “dysfunction first, pain second” process let’s use as our case study, new walker Joan. For one month Joan had diligently walked four days a week for 30 minutes at a 15-minute mile pace, at the local high school track. She walked about two miles or eight laps, sometimes with a friend or two. She then heard of a 10k run/walk event three weeks away and entered the event as a walker. In her mind she set a goal of one minute per mile faster, dropping to a 14-minute mile for the event.
On her next track work out (by herself) she decided to go for an hour and speed up a little. At her usual 30-minute mark when she would have finished she had walked nine laps instead of eight. Joan felt good about being able to speed up and not stop. At 40 minutes she noticed she was walking more on the outside of her right foot than she normally would, corrected it back to normal, and kept going. At 50 minutes her right big toe started to hurt and she was back to walking on the outside of her right foot again, now with less ability to toe off forcefully. With only 10 minutes to go she slowed down and stopped at 60 minutes having walked 16 laps. Back home she took off her shoes and could see a fluid-filled blister covering the pad of her right big toe.
So, what should Joan do now, with significant foot pain and a race coming up? Blisters showing clear fluid or blood need protection and time to heal. If the skin is not broken, the blister is sterile, with minimal risk of infection. Once it has popped, the chance of infection is increased. Treat it as you would any cut to the skin that does not need stitches: gently clean the surface, apply triple antibiotic cream, and protect the area with a band-aid.
In Joan’s case keeping pace and doing eight laps in 30 minutes consecutively would have given her the same outcome at 60 minutes. Other things to consider are why the right foot? Stopping to check and correct a few things would be: shoe lace tension, muscle imbalance helped by stretching in the foot, calf, or thigh region. When training be sure to feel and learn what is happening, slow down and stop if needed and check shoes and stretch a moment. Altered mechanics modify local chemistry and that hurts.