By Gill Stewart at
We make no secret of the fact that we love walking and think its the best way to stay active and stay in shape. That’s why we take foot health very seriously too. In this article we will help you to understand foot pain and avoid it getting so bad it stops you enjoying a good walk!
Did you know that there are so many bones in the foot that they actually represent a quarter of the bones in our bodies? In fact the anatomy of the human foot and ankle is truly complex, having evolved to provide superb shock absorption, weight bearing and stability.
If you have ever sprained an ankle or ruptured a tendon, you will appreciate how debilitating it can be to not be able to walk freely. Let’s explore our feet and look at ways to make sure we stay one step ahead of foot pain at all times!
A typical person will, over the course of day, put a cumulative force of circa 200 tons through their feet – obviously avid walkers or those who work on their feet are likely to exceed that. As we step forward in a walking stride each foot takes about 1.5 times your body weight whilst breaking into a run can take that up to 5 times your body weight with every step. That’s why those who are new to exercise should really learn to WALK before they can run! In fact, those who also have joint issues or are carrying excess weight really should really consider WALKING with POLES or NORDIC WALKING before even walking much further than they usually do.
This will help to condition the feet and avoid injuries or foot pain that could set them back to being sedentary again. Poles really do help to reduce the strain on feet, knees and hips allowing the new walker to build up and strengthen muscles without over straining joints. Wearing the right shoes is vital too as is having good gait and making sure you warm up and cool down pre and post walk. Our Instructors always factor this in and it really does prevent injury and soreness – Join our Tutor Adele for our VIRTUAL warm ups
Common foot problems include Arthritis, Bunions, the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis (more on that later) and of course blisters. Some are easy to manage but others need to treated carefully to avoid flare ups or the need to take your weight off your feet for too long!
Blisters do tend to be worse in warmer weather, if you wear new shoes or walk much further than you are used to. There are lots of great blister treatments that provide a second ‘skin’ over the area but the best thing to do is prevent them from ever forming in the first place. A good pair of socks which have padding in the right places and a good foot care regime that conditions the skin and creates a barrier against friction (we use STRIDE OUT FOOT OIL )
Arthritis in the feet can come in several forms from the common Osteoarthritis typically in the big toe joint or forefoot to Rheumatoid arthritis which usually presents in both feet. Both are extremely painful and best managed with a combination of anti inflammatory pain medication and gentle exercise. Natural remedies that many find useful are Glucosamine and Chondroitin which are natural components of the cartilage in joints that typically gets broken down in people with Osteoarthritis.
For both forms of arthritis turmeric has been shown to be helpful but always check in with a health professional before taking any remedies in case they react with other medication you may be prescribed. Losing weight, moving more (with care) and use ice packs are also good ways to reduce pain.
One of the most common issues faced by walkers and runners is Plantar Fasciitis, a painful condition caused by inflammation of the large ligament on the bottom of the foot. Typically people feel tension in the foot and a stabbing pain between the base of the heel and the mid foot, usually worse upon getting up in the morning. It can be debilitating and take a while to subside, so it’s a good idea to recognise the signs early and act before it becomes chronic.
Sometimes it can be triggered by too much standing around or walking too far in sandals or flip flops but those with flat feet, a high arch or an unusual gait can also experience flare ups. For some reason Women are more likely to suffer from it than Men and those over 40 have an even higher risk. Sometimes the cause is weak or tired muscles in the foot or the calves which causes excess strain on the plantar fascia. Strengthening exercises for those areas work wonders (See below) Carrying excess weight can also be a contributing factor and this often compounds the efforts of those trying to walk for weight loss. Again, this is something we see a lot of and our instructors can really help people get through this with phased walking plans and of course POLES! Get some lessons in Nordic Walking or speak to your physio about the Activator poles which are easy to use, provide stability plus increased calorie burning and reduced pressure on the lower body joints.
Sadly, the best way to overcome a bad flare up is REST but we think it’s equally important to stretch the Calves several times a day, massage the foot before getting out of bed or if you have been sitting for a while. This helps with foot flexibility and mobility so use long strokes from the base of the toes right through to the heel. Another tip is to try holding your foot as you sit and pulling the toes towards you. If it’s really painful ICE is also a good idea, especially after walking – aim for circa 15 minutes with an ice pack or bottle of ice cold water which you can roll your foot over. Sometimes, changing the shoes you walk in can also make a difference. We love the GRUBs Discover shoe (Log in to your members’ area to get the discount code!)
If you experience really severe pain, seek professional help from a Podiastrist or Physiotherapist (or similar). You may be advised to try a night splint which stops the plantar fascia tightening up as the foot relaxes in a sleep position. In essence it keeps the foot in the standing position which means there is no sudden strain when the foot is placed on the ground for the first step in the morning (which can cause further strain and irritation)
We think that strengthening and mobilising and stretching the muscles in the feet and lower legs really is the key to comfortable and injury free walking though, so remember to always warm up, cool down and make sure you do these simple exercises daily…………
The Calf stretch
Stand upright and if holding poles use them for support. Step backwards with the leg you are going to stretch and keeping the heel on the ground, gently bend the other leg until you feel a stretch in the calf of the extended one. Never take the knee over the toes on the bent leg and if the stretch is not enough simply scooch (technical term!) the rear leg further back a bit (keeping the heel on the ground.
The Ankle roll
The good old old ankle roll where you stand on one leg, raise the knee on the other leg and roll the foot of that leg up down and around to the sides. Its a common warm up but really essential for foot health and mobility.
Rolling through the foot
This is also a vital foot health exercise and also the essence of walking well. Start by placing one foot flat on the ground whilst the other one is ready for action. Place the active foot on the ground in front of you (as if stepping forwards) with only the heel touching the ground. Now roll your weight through the foot from the heel, through the forefoot and up onto the toes as shown in the two images below.
Those with Plantar Faciitis might also want to try to Toe curl or sometimes known as Towel curl where you place a towel on the ground and try to pull it towards you by gripping with the toes. This is a great foot conditioning exercise and really does work
So, time to put your best foot forward so you can enjoy walking even more. To find your local expert NWUK or WALX Instructor pop your postcode HERE