Preventing Shin Splints and Plantar Fasciitis

Steps to Take to Prevent Calf and Foot Pain

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Walking leads to fewer injuries of your muscles and bones than running, but you can still end up with calf and foot injuries. Shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and heel spurs can sideline you. Learn what you can do to prevent these common walking injuries.

Common Walking Injuries

There are two common injuries to the muscles and tendons that can affect walkers:

  • Shin splints: This is the most common condition new walkers experience, especially if they are trying to walk fast. Shin splints are the pain in the lower leg that stops when you slow down or stop. Your muscles are complaining because they are being used in a new way, leading to inflammation and pain. Shin splints will usually go away on their own as your body gets used to your new activity, but you will need to take it easy while they do so. Besides starting a new activity, other risk factors for shin splints include overpronation, a gait pattern in which your ankle turns too far downward and inward with each step. Overstriding, which is taking a step too far out in front with your lead foot, also contributes to shin splints.
  • ​​Heel spurs/plantar fasciitis: These related conditions result in a pain in the bottom of your foot. Your foot hurts first thing in the morning when you get out of bed and stand up, or when standing up after sitting for awhile. It is caused by wounding the tough band (fascia) on the bottom of your foot. A heel spur can develop if calcium is deposited where the fascia has partially detached from your heel. It can take several weeks to recover from plantar fasciitis or a heel spur. You will need to rest and reduce your walking. Other methods of plantar fasciitis relief include wearing a night splint to keep the foot flexed, icing, and wearing gel heel cups. As with shin splints, overpronation is a risk factor for plantar fasciitis.

    Prevention of Walking Injuries

    There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of injuries from walking.

    • Proper footwear: Get the right shoes for your feet. Many injuries are caused by overpronation, which can be corrected by motion control running shoes or orthotics. Visit the best running shoe store in your area to have your gait assessed and the best shoes recommended. Wearing old shoes that have lost their support and cushioning can also lead to injuries. You need to replace your walking shoes every 500 miles. While good shoes are an expense, they are far cheaper than needing medical care.
    • Warm up: Tight, cold muscles are a set-up for injury. Warm up at an easy pace before you engage in a more-vigorous activity. While research hasn't supported stretching before activity to prevent injuries, doing some flexibility moves to take your joints through the full range of motion is recommended by some coaches.
    • Nutrition: Give your body enough variety of food that is high in nutrients so it can build and repair muscle and bone. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein are what your body needs. A simple and cheap multi-vitamin is likely all you need rather than fad supplements.
    • Compensate for your anatomy: Know your body and work on correcting your walking posture. This can prevent strain on your neck, back, shoulders, and hips.
    • Ice: Icing an acute injury or strain is recommended to keep inflammation from destroying tissue. It may also help to relieve pain.
    • Sleep: You need sleep to give your body time to build muscles and repair damage.
    • Gradual changes in training: Increase your distance no more than 10 percent a week. Don't be a weekend warrior, be active throughout the week.
    • Proper form: The typical walking mistakes such as leaning too much, looking down, and swinging your arms up past your breastbone can all can lead to strain and injury. Walk tall with chin up and eyes forward, arms bent at 90 degrees and swinging up no further than your breastbone.
    • Overstriding: You overstride when you throw your leg out too far in front, unnaturally lengthening your stride and excessively flexing your ankle when your foot strikes. To correct this, slow down and shorten your stride. Concentrate on pushing off with your back foot rather than extending your front leg so far with each stride. Your lead foot should strike closer to your body, roll through the step and push off with your toe. This will increase your power and speed of stride and get rid of the overstriding habit. Your extension should be in the back, not in the front.
    • High heels: Overstriding can be made worse by wearing shoes with a high heel (compared to the forefoot). The best walking shoes will have very little difference between the heel height and the forefoot height. Also, if you wear dress shoes that have high heels your body will have trouble adjusting to wearing athletic shoes, which may contribute to calf strain.
    • Overpronation: This is when the foot rolls inward excessively on each step. If you tend to do this and you are wearing old shoes as well that are broken down, you have set yourself up for injury. Get new motion control running shoes.

    A Word From Verywell

    Staying active is important, even if you have an injury. Look for alternate activities such as swimming or cycling while you are recovering. Pay attention to good walking form and footwear so you can keep moving pain-free.

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