I wrote several columns earlier this year that challenged you to consider whether or not you were walking well. I discussed the importance of the speed and pattern of your walking. I also introduced a few exercises that would contribute to better strength and balance while walking.
I could not have anticipated how relevant that advice would be leading into this past spring. Throughout the initial quarantine phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, I continued to treat clients through virtual (i.e. video conference) care. I have never had more people tell me they were out walking every day as I did during that time.
As we lost access to our recreational facilities, a daily walk became the most accessible way to exercise regularly.
While I was thrilled to have so many clients increasing their steps per day, I noticed there was one key step many were missing: stretching. Whenever we start a new activity or increase its volume/frequency, it can be expected that the body will need to adapt to the change.
Sometimes, we forget walking puts (healthy) strain on the body and we end up underestimating the impact of these changes in routine. Without addressing the natural tightness that develops in the muscles used most during walking, we can be vulnerable to having pain develop in our ankles, knees, hips and back.
Here are my three favourite stretches to maximize performance and comfort when walking.
Stand facing the wall and step one leg backward. Keep the back leg straight (heel down) and bend the front knee. A stretch should be felt in the back of the lower leg below the knee.
Stand while holding something for balance. Place one foot up on the seat of a chair behind you, while continuing to stand in an upright posture. A stretch should be felt in the front of the thigh near the knee.
Hip flexor stretch
Stand while holding something for balance. Take a large step forward and keep the front knee bent. Lift the back heel up, while letting the back knee bend slightly. A stretch should be felt in the front of the thigh near the hip.
Each stretch should be held for 20 to 30 seconds and repeated two to three times. These are most beneficial after a walk to relieve the tightness that has been generated during exercise. They should not cause pain in the muscles or joints.
If these positions are painful or don’t work for you, call your physiotherapist for an individualized assessment. A physiotherapist can provide instruction on how you can best address your specific walking-related muscle tightness.
Of course, we have a lot more than three muscles in our legs. You might benefit from stretching additional muscles as well.
Watch for my next column, where I will share my best tips for you to be able to progress the intensity, frequency and length of your own walking program.
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