Walking regularly is a great way to get exercise, strengthen your legs and increase your cardiac capacity. Heel pain due to plantar fasciitis or achilles tendinitis can seriously limit your ability to walk however.
Here at Creekside Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation, we specialize in helping you recover from your heel pain. These 6 strategies are a good starting points to decrease your pain with walking. If they’re not enough to fully resolve your heel pain, give us a call or send us a message to get individualized care for your foot.
Mix up walking routes to increase strength and decrease foot pain
Often times people walk the same loop every single day. This excessive consistency can set yourself up for a potential overuse injury or exacerbate current injures. Variation is key!
Give yourself some shorter as well as longer walks! Variation in exercise can promote strength gains faster than excessive consistency. If you want to increase your speed or endurance, pushing yourself with the longer walks is a good place to start. The shorter walks help to loosen tight muscles and improve recovery between harder walks.
Mixing up your walking route can also improve your pain levels and increase strength gains. Walking on level ground is a great way to increase your walking speed & endurance without irritating painful Achilles’ tendons or plantar fascia. If you have heel pain, holding off on walking up/down steeper hills while you’re recovering is a good place to start. The extra calf muscle recruitment when walking hills can exacerbate your pain levels.
Stop and stretch while walking to prevent heel pain
Tight calf muscles often exacerbate heel and the bottom of the foot pain such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis. Stretching your calf while on a walk can keep the calf bottom of the foot structures from tightening up, reducing heel pain. Stretching your calf with your heel off the edge of a curb or bending forward and stretching your calf and hamstrings are both easy ways to stretch out the muscles and tendons that contribute to heel pain.
Step “softer” to decrease heel pain
Striking the ground harder than necessary with your heel can also exacerbate foot pain. When walking for exercise, often times people straighten the knee and strike the ground much more harshly than is necessary.
One cue that has made a big difference for a lot of my patients, is to walk with “soft knees.” This is essentially walking with your knees very slightly bent at the time when your heel hits the ground. Your thigh muscles will help to absorb some of the impact force, decreasing heel pain. Conscious changes to the specific mechanics of walking can feel very awkward and over complicated, so just keeping in mind the cue “soft knees” while walking can be the most effective cue to improve your walking patterning.
Taping your foot before your walks to support your arch and decrease pain
Using different taping methods to increase the support of your arch and decrease your heel & foot pain with walking. Now taping alone will not fix the cause of your heel pain but can increase your ability to stay active with less pain.
Depending on your foot tape and cause of heel pain, different taping strategies can be most effective. Some people prefer a stiff supportive taping under the arch, this will limit pronation and reduce the plantar fascia from being overstretched in a rotational direction. Other people prefer kinesiotape which acts more like a “hug“ to the bottom of the foot. Kinesio tape will not support the foot as much as a stiffer tape well but does sensory input from the tape can temporarily decrease pain.
In physical therapy we will teach you how to properly tape your foot and as well as strengthen and stretch your lower leg to fix the root cause of your heel pain
Take multiple shorter walks to maintain endurance while recovering from heel pain
Split your walks into multiple shorter walks. To maintain as much activity as possible while recovering from an injury, doing two shorter walks per day can be much more tolerable than one longer walk. Make sure to warm up properly for each walk!
Change stride length to decrease Achilles & plantar fasciitis pain
Change your stride length to decrease how much work your calf & foot muscles have to do. Your stride length is how far you’re stepping with each step. Often times, people take excessively long strides when walking quickly. This increases the amount of work the lower leg and foot muscles have to do on the increasing your risk of foot pain & injury. Walking at a higher cadence (more steps per minute) while decreasing your stride length will allow you to walk at the same speed and decrease your risk of injury.
If your foot is still hurting, give us a call!
If simple tweaks to your walking program is not enough to fix your foot pain we are here to help!
Send us a message or give us a call at 503–300-0690 so we can help you get moving at your best!