How to Help Prevent Injuries when Walking

By Catherine Sempill


I Got injured on a multi-day walk: here’s what I did wrong

I was two and a half days in to a 5-day walk and something wasn’t right. Each step I took sent spikes of pain up to my ankles, and landing on my feet at any angle other than perpendicular to my leg, was agony. Trudging up a short, gentle hill took an age, and was so painful that a simple lunch stop turned into the hour of reckoning. It was quit now or risk doing some serious damage.

I quit. I hitched into the nearest town and caught a train back home. I spent the next six weeks alternately icing, stretching and massaging my tendons twice a day. 

What went wrong? I underestimated the demands of a “simple walk.”

As walking is an integral part of most of our daily lives, it is easy to make the mistake I did. We walk every day, so we assume our bodies are used to it. The fact is, walking a significantly longer distance than your body is accustomed to puts just as much strain on it as running a marathon without training. The same goes for attempting a walk on different terrain than you are used to.

With hindsight, I see that I was far too blase about this walk. I can pinpoint a number of things I did wrong, and I assure you I’ve learnt from my mistakes. To prevent you from having to learn the hard way too, I thought I’d share some of them here.

Please note that I am not a medical expert and am merely sharing my experience. If you have any concerns, please talk to your doctor or physiotherapist before you set out on a long-distance walk.

Preventing Walking Injuries, Contours Holidays (c) Pexel.jpg

Mistake #1 - I didn’t train beforehand.

I have a good level of fitness and regularly walk and cycle. Before I started, the concept of a 5-day walk seemed like a natural extension of the walking I already do. I had deliberately chosen an “easy” trail - straight and flat. It turns out though, that even on flat, even ground, the repetitive motion of walking for six hours a day can put stress on your tendons.

Next time I do a multi-day walk, no matter how “easy,” I will definitely be doing some training walks, gradually increasing the distance covered in one go until I near my goal.

adventure-backpack-dusty-terrain-pexel jpg.jpg

Mistake #2 - I didn’t stretch. At all.

Given that walking is an everyday activity, it can feel a bit dramatic to stretch before you set off, and again at the end of the day. However, as you are in fact asking quite a lot from your body, it is not unusual for your muscles to get a bit stiff. Stiffness itself isn’t an issue, but tight muscles pave the way for tendon strain, so a little light stretching can go a long way in preventing trekking injuries.

Next time I set off on a multi-day walking holiday, I will certainly be taking 10 minutes to stretch at the beginning and end of each walking day.

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Mistake #3 - I ignored the pain

If you’re as stubborn as me, you’ll go to great lengths to achieve what you’ve set out to do. Google tells me that tendon injuries are usually the result of small tears or injuries, which build up gradually and come to a head, making it feel like the pain comes on all of a sudden.

This holds true for me. Throughout the first two days I noticed little twangs and discomfort in my ankles, and the gradual decrease in flexibility. I was on a schedule though, and as long as I could still walk, I felt that I should. When I woke up on the third day barely able to walk, I realised that this attitude had been a mistake.

When I noticed the discomfort, I should have slowed down, taken more breaks, and done some stretching. This may have given my body a little more time to adjust. Instead I ploughed on, hoping for the best.

Walking injury, rawpixel-761477-unsplash.jpgOf course, there are no hard and fast rules for preventing walking injuries. Sometimes they will happen in spite of the most disciplined approach to risk mitigation. And some people will have no issues even without taking precautions.

Doing any physical activity is going to carry a small level of risk, but walking through beautiful scenery with fresh air in your lungs is certainly worth it as far as I’m concerned!

Originally published 18/12/18

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