Maybe you’ve heard of mindful meditation or mindful eating, but have you heard of mindful walking? When I say mindful walking, what I mean is the state of being present when you are walking. In other words, to focus on the activity you are doing while you are doing it. So instead of walking and thinking about everything else in the world, practice this exercise of walking and thinking about how you are walking.
Walking is a very repetitive movement that is performed everyday and can lead to overuse injuries if done incorrectly. It’s funny to think that walking can be done incorrectly when you’ve been doing it since you were 1 yr. old. But there are certain things you should think about and be mindful of if you have pain when you are walking or you want to prevent pain.
- ) Are you heel striking with every step? Or do you tend to shuffle around? One way to be aware of if you are heel striking is to listen. Do you hear a scuffle or just one solid tap with each step you take. You may think why is that important? If you fail to heel strike, meaning bringing your toes back with every step and letting your heel touch the ground first, you could literally trip over your toes. This could lead to a fall, especially in older adults. Some people are unable to pull their toes back due to weakness in their tibialis anterior. (See my post on strengthening your ankles especially the one where you pull your toes up)
2.) Are you pushing off more with one foot than the other? Some people have a dominant side, but be aware that you are walking as evenly as possible in order to strengthen both sides equally.
3.) Are you leaning forward and looking down at the ground? Do your shoulders fall forward? Or are your shoulders back and head up? Your mom was right–mind your posture! When you are walking, too much leaning forward and you could develop a stooped over posture. Your psoas (hip flexors), pects., and cervical extensors will shorten. Your glutes might become inactive and that muscle imbalance can lead to all sorts of hip and knee injuries.
4.) Are your feet rolling in when you walk? Check out the bottom of your shoes to see where the wear pattern is? Do you pronate? Most people tend to pronate or roll their foot in when they walk. Often people that have collapsed arches tend to pronate. If this is the case, you can try to strengthen your foot intrinsic muscles and potentially wear arch support in your shoes.
5. ) Think about how you walk up/down stairs. When you go up, are you pushing through your heel? Is your foot halfway off the step? When you are coming down the stairs, are your toes leading or your heel?
When you are walking up the stairs, think about getting the whole foot on the step and pushing up through your heel so you are activating your large muscle groups including your glutes and hamstrings. Give your poor gastroc muscles a break and let the bigger muscle groups take over. When walking down the stairs think of leading with your toes like you are stepping into cold water and rolling through your foot.
6.) Did you have a recent injury and now you are limping around? Stop that limp! If you don’t, your body could memorize this new gait pattern, and that could lead to all sorts of secondary compensatory injuries. If you are still healing from an injury, you should still try and walk as normally as possible. If that means you need to use a brace, CAM boot, or cane to get around for a bit, then use it until your pain improves and you can walk more normally.