Physio tips for long distance walkers
04.12.19|Posted by Alan Young

Top physio tips for a long walk or hike 

Alan Young is an Ascenti Physiotherapist based in London.   He is an experienced clinician and a walking enthusiast himself, having climbed the Himalayas, the Alps and more recently mountains in Japan as part of an eleven-day trek.  Alan combines his physiotherapy expertise with his own personal walking experiences, to bring you his top tips. 

I started walking when I was younger, firstly on shorter walks around the UK and eventually taking on bigger challenges like the Himalayas. 

It’s such a great way to keep fit. You’re outdoors in the fresh air and exploring new places, plus anyone can give walking a go. 

Because of the impact that walking has on your legs the main areas of concern for walkers tends to be pain in the knees, feet and ankles. 

The weather and other conditions can also have an impact, for example if the ground is wet and boggy it can cause you to tire quickly, so ensuring you are conditioned is important.

Most aches and pains will recover on their own and are a natural response to the workout that you are giving your legs. That said, there are steps that you can take to reduce discomfort and your likelihood of injury. 

Remember that walking is supposed to be an activity that you can enjoy – so don’t let pain get in the way of this. 

1. Wear the right footwear 

Your choice of footwear is one of the most important things. 

If you are getting into your walking and covering distances that are longer than 3-4 hours, then you should invest in some proper waterproof walking shoes. 

Most outdoor sports shops will offer to measure your feet and help you to find a brand and fit that works for you. 

Avoid walking long distances in brand new shoes and make sure that you have worn them in on smaller walks beforehand. 

Proper walking socks are also important as they will wick moisture away from your feet and prevent blisters, so long as your shoes fit you properly. 

2. Consider your strength and fitness 

Make sure you are fit enough to do the walk you have planned. 

If you normally live a sedentary lifestyle, for example if you work in an office and drive to work, then suddenly going on a 10 mile walk one weekend is going to be a big shock for your body. 

Consider doing smaller walks in the lead up to a bigger trip out or increasing your activity levels generally, for example by walking to work or swimming once a week. 

Strengthening key legs muscles will also help. 

3. Address old injuries and any areas of weakness 

Make sure that you address any pre-existing areas of weakness or old injuries with a physiotherapist. For example, if you have problems with twisting motions or an issue with your knee. 

Your physiotherapist will be able to offer you management advice, which may include bespoke exercises to build strength and stability, or wearing a brace support on your walk. 

Manual therapies like soft-tissue massage can also be used to keep the body in optimum condition beforehand or after a long walk to promote healing and reduce tension. 

4. Pace yourself 

Often people are excited or set goals in their mind about how quickly they plan to do things. 

Accept that you will have good days and bad days, and that factors outside of your control like weather can also impact on your speed. 

You should always be able to hold a conversation when you walk and if you’re out of breath then you should slow down or rest for a moment - pace yourself and enjoy the scenery.

If you’re just starting out but have your sights set on a bigger challenge, begin with an hour walk and increase by 10% every time to build up from there. 

5. Stay hydrated

You might be tempted to pack a minimal amount of water because of the weight, but it’s so important that you stay properly hydrated. 

Always take more water than you would expect to use. 

If your muscles become dehydrated then you are increasing your risk of injury and discomfort like cramp.

If you will have access to water like a stream on your walk, then there are now some pretty clever filtration systems that you can use as an alternative or back up. 

6. Keep your energy levels up 

Whether you have been training hard for a big walking challenge or are gently working towards a smaller personal goal, resting the day before is important. 

Get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy carb based meal the day before. 

On the day of your walk you should avoid eating anything heavy and snack on smaller energy rich foods if possible. 

7. Remember to warm down 

When you’ve finished walking make sure you don’t just sit down and stop. 

You need to cool your body down gently. 

Keep moving on the spot and do some gentle stretches for your calf and quad muscles:

8. Progress to a bigger challenge 

The only difference between short walks and long walks is your preparation. 

This means taking a change of clothes, change of socks, more water and wearing lots of thin layers instead of big bulky ones. 

Make sure you have a first aid kit for things like taping or addressing any injuries. 

Depending on which country you’re in, then you may have to plan your route and alert certain services or departments beforehand. 

If you’re on a National Trust walk then there are usually signs at the start that provide information about which services to call should you need help.  

Ascenti is here to answer your questions around how physiotherapy can help you to reach your goals. Find out more about our ethos and the treatments we can offer you.

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