Think walkers don’t get sports injuries? Think again

Sport Walk’s Roger Burlinson looks at a sports injury that can hamper walking performance.

While runners face a live risk of picking up an injury when training or racing, walkers are rarely under threat, except perhaps from that classic demon of a twisted ankle. But when you walk for sport, possibly cross training with running for fitness, the potential increases and there are a couple of hard to shift sports injuries that can at least affect performance and at worst have you laying off training or walking for long periods.

It’s unlikely that you’ll pick up a serious sports injury while sport walking, unless you push well beyond your limits or take on a long distance challenge that’s much further than you’re used to (where pure wear and tear over a very long sustained period of paced walking can trigger something). You could carry across a training niggle from running though and then discover you’ve got a problem while walking.

One common running injury that can present itself in walking is Iliotibial Band Syndrome, which causes pain down the outside of the knee.  ITBS is a condition that can often come on when key leg muscles are tired and not providing good support, so the band rubs against the knee bone and becomes inflamed. It can also come on during long or arduous walks when the legs become seriously fatigued.

I’ve suffered with ITBS a few times, when I started running regularly in the past and it came back to haunt me after 60k on my New Forest Sport Walk, so I can testify to its ability to migrate across sports. For me, it was a running injury in the past but given the right conditions, most notably my legs not being fully up to strength for the task in hand, it came back and bit me hard.  Whenever I hit a climb, when the stress on my legs was at its peak, it flared up resulting in frequent stops while walking uphill and walking poles didn’t make much difference.

ITBS is a persistent condition and the only real solution is to build up leg strength over time to support muscular endurance. Just focus on walking or running without strength training as a part of your program and you could find yourself with an ITB issue, given the right conditions.

Build a solid foundation with strength or weight training for the legs and you may not prevent ITB completely but your leg muscles will hold up for longer, meaning the ITB is far less susceptible to rubbing and inflammation.

It’s an injury that can be hard to shift, rather like an achilles injury, so prevention is better than cure. If you start to feel pain on the outside of the knee or the side of the leg around the knee, back off and save it for another day. Then, apply ice and also use a foam roller if you can after the walk.  There’s lots of info and advice (mostly for runners) online, so do some research and treat this condition with respect.

On a practical level, a minor ITB flare up won’t stop you from doing strength exercises, such as single leg squats but it will return quickly if you go for another fast walk or run. So the best approach if you get a dose of this annoying injury, is to resist doing the thing that aggravates it and concentrate on strength work because strong leg muscles are your best defence against it coming back.

But it’s not just about having weakness in leg muscles, there’s another hazard to be aware of.  ITBS can also be triggered by sustained walking or running on a cambered surface or from shoes that are seriously worn, tilting your foot inwards and stressing the knee area, which in turn starts the ITB rubbing and becoming inflamed.

You might not realise it at first but walking on, say, the left side of a cambered track for some time, could bring on an ITB irritation in your right leg, as your right foot is tilted inwards by the camber stressing your knee.  The same could occur on flat ground if your shoes are worn.

Walking on rough ground isn’t an issue in itself, because the terrain beneath you is always changing but find yourself on a surface with a constant camber and you could trigger ITBS, regardless of whether you’ve had problems with it in the past.

A good approach then, apart from making sure your trainers or walking shoes are in good shape, is always to have a very cautious approach to surface cambers and to become a habitual anticamberist! Either walk on the crest in the middle of the track or switch from side to side regularly, so that one leg or another is never stressed for too long.

It might sound sad but I’m like a child avoiding the gaps between the slabs in the pavement when it comes to cambers.  It was a camber that gave me my first ever dose of ITBS and I’ve avoided them ever since.

So, by avoiding cambers and building up your leg strength you should, hopefully, be able to stay ITBS free and, take it from me, that’s really something to cherish.


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