Walking away from the pain

Michael McCreight

November 26, 2021

The dos and don’ts of how to walk properly: your essential guide

The journey to great health takes only a few steps. A 2020 study found that walking for 60 to 75 minutes a day can offset the health risks of sitting for long periods.

Yet many people don’t experience the benefits of walking. One reason is that they do not know how to walk properly.

What are some basic practices you should always do while you are walking? How can you avoid muscle pain while you walk? What are some practices you should avoid doing?

Answer these questions and you can walk your way to a healthier life. Here is your quick guide.

The dos

Good walking habits are simple. Try practising them inside your home before going out for your walks.

Keep your head up

The average person’s head weighs between 10 and 11 pounds. Your spine and muscles can support your head when it is upright.

But if it leans to one side, the weight of your head can pull on your back. Your muscles may begin to tear and your spine may get pulled out of line.

When you are walking or sitting, you need to keep your head on top of your spine. Take a look at where your shoulders are and make right angles between the sides of your head and your shoulders.

Keep your shoulders down

Your shoulders are just as important as your head. If your shoulders are tense, your muscles will become strained.

Relax your shoulders so they rest below your ears. If you feel strain in your shoulders, shrug them a few times and then let them fall.

When you need to pick up something, try moving your hands and forearms. Roll your shoulders to move your arms back and forth instead of raising your shoulders.

Engage your core

Your core muscles include your pelvis muscles, diaphragm, and abdomen. These muscles support your balance and give you a range of movements.

While you are walking, you should try moving your core muscles in addition to your legs. Pull your belly button in the direction of your spine.

This can tighten your muscles and promote your stability. It can also reduce stress on your back, which can alleviate back pain.

Take deep breaths in and out so you can stretch your diaphragm. You can take a break every 30 minutes or so to do this.

Step from heel to toe

Using your entire foot while you are walking will alleviate pressure off of your back. It will also maintain your centre of balance as you move from foot to foot.

As you extend your foot forward, raise your toes so your heel is sticking down. Hit the ground with your heel and then move your body forward, rolling onto your toe. As you prepare your next step, push with your toes to propel your body.

Lengthen your back

You can stretch your back without straining your muscles. The key is to try lengthening your back vertically instead of slouching in one direction.

Keeping your head on top of your spine and pulling your shoulders down will help. Puff your chest out a little bit to raise your ribcage and pull your back up.

If pain makes it hard to lengthen your back, you should learn how to treat chronic back pain. Putting hot and cold packs on your back can limit tissue damage.

Swing your arms

Swinging your arms has several benefits. It helps you burn more calories, which helps your physical health. It creates a good posture and gait while building muscles in your shoulders.

You don’t have to be aggressive with your swings. Keep your hands around your midsection and move them gently. Never swing your arms so your hands cross your body.

Pay attention to your foot pattern

Your foot pattern is how your foot hits the ground and rolls so your body can move forward. Your ideal foot pattern will involve your entire foot without straining your leg muscles.

If you notice you have foot pain during your walk, you should stop and evaluate how your feet are moving. You may be striking the ground off-centre, or you may not be pushing with your toes. Make small adjustments and then take a break after a few minutes to see if things are better.

The don’ts

Learning how to walk correctly means avoiding certain practices. It is okay to do these practices on occasion, but you should avoid making a habit of them.

Looking down

You may need to look down to see if the sidewalk is slippery or if something is in your shoe. But you should not look down during large portions of your walk.

If you need to see something on the ground, move your eyes and not your head. If you need a closer look, bend at your hips so you don’t strain your neck.

Slouching

Do not slouch your head, shoulders, or torso. Keep everything upright at all times, even if you need to look toward the ground.

Wearing the wrong footwear

Your footwear should support your feet. Never go out of the house with shoes that have worn heels and broken toes. You can wear sneakers, but make sure they give room for your feet to move.

The essentials of how to walk properly

Learning how to walk properly requires a little work. You should keep your head up, your shoulders down, and your back straight.

Pay attention to how you move your feet and hands. Engage all parts of your feet as you step forward. You should also try stretching your core muscles so you have a good balance.

Do not look down or slouch because you will strain your neck and shoulders. Find a good pair of shoes that support your feet as you move.

Sometimes we end up in a vicious circle and can’t walk a lot because of the pain, but the only way to go through the pain is by walking properly. Elysian Wellness Centre can help you start walking properly by easing the pain first. Co

Michael McCreight, Registered Physiotherapist

November 26, 2021

Mike is an experienced and talented physiotherapist who holds a BSc in human kinetics and an MSc in physiotherapy. He doesn't believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach and is committed to providing client-centred care, tailoring each treatment plan to each patient’s unique needs and personal goals.