What? Walking can cause pain? Let me tell you how that happens.
I love seeing more and more people getting into walking for exercise. My neighborhood is filled with walkers each day. Walking for 30 minutes a day at a fast pace is very beneficial for your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. It is a great way to lose weight, and if you are really motivated, you could do a walking meditation. Walking helped me lose over 100lbs back in 1996 and has helped keep the weight off ever since. However, the pace you walk, your gait, the terrain you walk on, and your shoes can have a detrimental effect on your neck and shoulders. Today I will discuss how bad things can happen and why, then how to fix them so you can get back to walking and improve your health.
How Can Walking Hurt Me?
Most of us have been told our entire lives that exercise is good for us. I would agree with that statement to at least 90%. However, how we exercise is most important because exercise can create injuries, too, if not done correctly. Walking is a very simple thing that we take for granted. At age two or so, we were taught to walk by our parents. Most likely, they were not expert walkers nor had they been trained in how to teach a human how to walk correctly. They did the best they could, as they have reminded us our entire lives, and they did. However, now you are an adult, and it is high time you learn more about walking so you can stop the nagging pain you feel most days. Here are the 3 ways walking can cause neck and shoulder pain.
#1 Walking Your Dog
I love watching people walk in my neighborhood. There are a few things I am looking for. Dog walking can be dangerous for your shoulders and neck. It is good for the dog, but too many times I see the dog pulling the human along. This constant pressure on the shoulders can lead to a stiff shoulder or neck, or both. I have seen people with rotator cuff tears from dog walking. If you are talking on the phone while walking your dog, you could be in double trouble with neck and shoulder stiffness and pain. When walking your dog, walk up next to your dog. If your dog is constantly pulling you, either you are walking too slowly for your dog, or your dog needs some training in how to walk with you. The constant pulling on your arm forces the other side of your body to contract and resist your being pulled down. A leisurely walk is neither good for you nor your dog.
If you are on the phone, leave it home. You will not be gone for hours or days while walking your dog. Enjoy your time with your dog and the environment you are walking in. Like a child, your dog needs your attention as well. It is more therapeutic for you and your dog if you are present. Most of us hate exercise and would rather not do it, however, no exercise program works well without your being fully engaged. Relationships need you fully engaged, too. Your dog will love it.
#2 Leading With Your Head
Leading with your head is another common thing I see people do. By leading with your head, it shifts the weight of the head, ten to twelve pounds, out in front of your chest. Every inch your head is out in front of your chest, the pressure on your neck increases by ten pounds. Not only does this affect your neck, it also shifts more pressure on the calves which can lead to plantar fasciitis, pain in the heel, or Achilles tendinitis.
Walking like you are in a hurry can be very stressful, emotionally, and physically. Try leading with your belly button when you walk. This can be difficult if your calves are tight, and your ankles cannot bend properly. I have posted the calf stretch again to help you stretch the calves correctly. This is the most important stretch you can do. Leading with your nose is like walking uphill all the time. The quads [the front of your thighs] can become tight which will lead to low back stiffness.
Try this. Stand on your bare feet. Now shift your body forward slightly. Feel your weight shift from your heels to your toes? Walking while leading with your nose places you in this state all the time. The arch of your foot will tighten causing arch pain. The calves will tighten causing heel pain. The quads tighten causing back pain. Finally, all of these together cause neck pain. Not a great place to be.
#3 Wearing the Wrong Shoes for Walking
I know there are shoes that are supposedly made for walking and then there are shoes actually made for walking. Most specialty shoes for walking and running are designed to stop foot, knee, hip, or back pain. These are all symptoms of incorrect walking. While the shoes can temporarily stop the pain, long-term damage is still being done due to your mechanics. A good shoe for walking has less support, easily bends in the middle, and allows your feet to work the way they were designed. Most people I work on who have foot, knee, hip, or back pain have very tight feet and calves. As a society, we have done a very poor job of teaching people how to care for their feet.
Arch supports were designed to relieve arch pain. Most people believe that you simply cannot walk without good support from your shoes. The arch pain comes from tight calves which prevent the ankle from bending. When the ankle does not bend, there is little need for the arch to work because the quads are doing all the work. Your foot has 29 muscles, 26 bones, and 33 articulations which allow you to push off with your toes as you walk.
High heels or stiff shoes with thick soles and arch supports prevent the foot from bending. This can cause the arch to atrophy. Some people, like myself, have had flat arches from birth, it seems. If your parents were like mine, they placed you in shoes from birth, so you never developed your arches. It is a muscle like all the other muscles in your body. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Sports shoe businesses have just found a niche and filled it.
Your shoes should be very flexible to the point of bending in the middle. Do not go cold turkey here. Realize you will need to build up your feet first. Your goal should be to wear a shoe that you can bend in half and stick in your pocket. I know with most shoes you cannot do that. However, if you can walk barefoot without pain or wear flexible shoes all day without pain, then you are on the right track.
How to Solve your Pain
Below are two stretches we have all seen before but are the best for stopping neck pain caused by walking incorrectly. I would suggest doing these stretches morning and evening for the rest of your life. Think about your dog or cat–they stretch every day, several times a day. You should follow them when it comes to stretching.
Tips to Improve Your Stretching
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch everyday and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.