There is a proper walking form. But it turns out we forget how to walk right, with time, added weight, shoes and more. Experts tell us ways to relearn the basics to avoid aches and pains
Walking is a basic activity that our bodies are designed to do. Yet walking can be injury-prone unless done correctly. “Even though it is a low-impact exercise that requires no technical help, we need to monitor it because every step we take, either helps to strengthen our back muscles or can give rise to poor posture,” says Dr Swati Sanghvi, Head of Department, Advanced Physiotherapy, at Saifee Hospital, Mumbai.
Walking is individual-specific and everyone has their own unique gait. But, there are certain ways to enhance everyone’s walking experience. Posture, foot motion, stride, and arm swing define a healthy walking style – the kind that does not leave you with upper neck or lower body pain, stiff knees, shin splints, pelvic spasms or aching ankles, says Dr Maninder Singh, Senior Consultantat at Delhi’s Indian Spinal Injury Centre.
Most activities we perform are forward-bending. Therefore, it is important to stand tall and straight, not slouch or hunch while walking, reminds Dr Ashish Jain, Orthopaedic suregon at Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital who is also a body builder and fitness enthusiast. He says whether you are a beginner or a pro, walking for leisure or fitness, the one principle to remember is that the body needs to be in proper alignment
In neutral position
The base of your body is your foot. When you look at your side profile, it should be in one line: the toe should point forward, not in-turned or out-turned; the knee should be over the ankle and hip over the knee; the neck should be in neutral position; the mid-point of the shoulder should be aligned with your ear lobe. The chin should not be poking outward, or lower back overarched, says Dr Sanghvi.
The right way
Proper walking requires using all the muscles in the leg. The walking step is a rolling motion.
Strike the ground with the heel of your front foot, push your heel into the ground and straighten your knee, roll through the step from heel to toe. Now push off with your toes while bringing the back leg forward to strike again with the heel.
Shrug your shoulders and relax. Pull them back as you start walking.
Swing your arms as you walk keeping your elbows close to your body. It helps your shoulders stretch and strengthens the upper back muscles. The hand in front should not cross the central point of your body and should be kept lower than your breastbone.
Keep your head and chin up and look ahead and in front, never down, while walking. It helps in improving your balance.
Slowly does it
Walk at a warm up pace first. Breathe in normally and breathe out pulling your belly button in and up (imagine squeezing yourself into a tight pair of jeans). Be conscious of your abdomen while walking and engage your core muscles; it reduces back, hip and upper spinal cord strain says Dr Sanghvi.
Dr Jain advises shorter and more strides instead of long, unnatural strides because lengthening the gait stretches the leg muscles and destabilizes the core. That can lead to discomfort over time. He recommends comfortable, flexible, cushioned-soled shoes.
“The foot comprises multiple bones. There should be no friction between the bones inside the toe box of the shoe, or else the nerves get irritated and the shock goes up to your back,” he says.
When you start walking longer distances than you’re used to, you may feel pain in the thigh and calf muscles and inner legs, but this usually disappears in 72 hours. If an ache persists beyond that, do seek medical attention, says Dr Sanghvi.
Those with flat feet, knock knees or bow legs can get good arch support in their shoes, though most sports shoes are already supportive. Do check with your doctor if you have any of these conditions.
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