Spine & Sport: Warming up to Winter Walking

Physiotherapist Derek Geldrich offers a few tips for those who want to stay fit and stay safe while walking in the winter

Winter is here, which means slippery sidewalks and uneven walkways, both a potential source of ankle sprains, knee and lower back pain. So here are a few tips to keep fit and injury free this winter whether you’re just out for a walk or want to continue with your running.

Proper equipment

Having the proper shoes/boots for winter is important in preventing ankle sprains and blisters.

n A well-fitting hiking shoe with good ankle support for uneven terrain and sole with a tread capable of providing traction on slippery terrain will help.

n A comfortable fit and using wool socks to wick away sweat instead of cotton will ensure blisters don’t occur.

n Trekking poles are a good way to provide extra stability on those steep and slippery paths.

n Trekking poles reduce the amount of impact on the knees and ankles during downhill walking.

n For running there are shoes available that provide traction specifically for winter conditions via tiny studs in the sole.

Get fit before you go

Walking is physically demanding, involving almost every muscle group in the body.  A few exercises to better prepare for the winter season can make those sidewalks and trails much easier.  Depending on your current level of physical fitness, it is best to start with 10 repetitions once a day and increase this number gradually as you improve your fitness level.

n Squats: simply standing shoulder width apart bend the knees to a comfortable level maintaining your balance, then pressing back up again.

n Step ups/down: using a step eight to 12 inches high, place one leg up, then step up with the other; repeat, starting with the opposite leg first.

n Calf raise: stand on the first stair with the balls of the feet on the edge. Hold onto the railing, while pressing up to stand on the toes of the feet.

Balance for healthy ankles and knees

Ankle exercises can improve your stability, coordination, balance and awareness of your footing on uneven or slippery surfaces.  Research has shown a reduction in ankle and knee injuries with regular balance exercises in athletes.

There are several pieces of equipment on the market today that can add variety/difficulty to your exercise routine: the BOSU trainer, Wobble and Rocker boards, foam rollers

An exercise requiring no equipment can be used to train these same principles of ankle stability:

n Balance on one leg, maintain a slight bend in the supporting knee while balancing.  Standing on a rolled up towel of various thickness will make this exercise more difficult

Check with your physiotherapist for more information on these and other great tips, or for an injury prevention assessment.

Derek Geldrich  is a registered physiotherapist, MScPT, B. Kin, at Northend Spine & Sports Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy in Vernon.