Avoiding foot and lower leg pain when travelling
Travelling – as fabulous as it is – can often cause havoc to the body. We usually start the travelling experience with a prolonged period of sitting either on a plane, in a car, bus or train which puts strain on the lower back. We then proceed to heave luggage around adding to the back overload as well as shoulders. As an added extra we may continue the journey on foot, walking far more than we do at home (and often not since your last holiday). All these changes in activity can cause havoc for the lower back, shoulders, neck and feet if you are not prepared.
You can help prevent travel problems by firstly being aware of the impending issues, and secondly becoming stronger and fitter before you go. This advice will to help make your travel experience positive for your body, so your mind can enjoy!
Firstly, let’s talk about feet and why it is good to be prepared.
Travel can involve a lot more walking than you do in your daily routine. It is important to prepare for increasing loads on the ankles and feet because when the lower leg and calf is given too much load with more than it has the tolerance for, the tissues and structures don’t cope very well. In particular, the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia (under the foot) become overloaded, overstretched, inflamed and very painful. This can lead to problems often known as Achilles tendinitis (or tendinopathy) and plantar fasciitis.
These problems occur from several reasons that can be avoided. The most common reason is increasing your walking volume (or step count) too quickly. For instance, if you generally walk 10,000 steps a day (the recommended daily step count), on holidays or and travelling it is very easy to be taking far more than this and may you reach up to – 15,000 – 18,000 steps. This is particularly relevant if you are travelling overseas and walking around international airports. This is a big increase in walking volume and with a sudden high load on the lower leg and foot structures.
The other factor that often plays a part is a change in footwear. Changing the shoe differential (the difference in height between the height of the heel and the front of the shoe) and/or the amount of arch support in a shoe can lead to problems. The tendons and muscles in the feet and ankle need time to adjust and build up their resilience to these changes, particularly if the height differential decreases or there is less arch support than you normally have in your shoes.
Four Tips to Prevent Foot and Calf Pain
Here are a few ways you can help reduce your chance of encountering foot and calf pain when you are travelling:
- Choose your travel footwear wisely:
- Make sure your footwear is always well fitted with good arch support and not more than 12 months old.
- Look at the shoe differential (the difference in height between the height of the heel and the front of the shoe) and make sure it is similar to your current walking shoes.
- Practice walking in your travel shoes at least a month before you plan your journey
- Prepare by increasing your walking with daily walks. Increase the walking volume /length by about 10 % each week. Start this at least 2 months out – preferably 3 months – before you travel so your body is accustomed to the loads that it will encounter when travelling.
- Keep your calves strong and flexible with the following exercises:
Exercise for strong and flexible calves
1. Heel raises:
- Start in a standing position with your feet at hips-width apart. Keeping your knees straight, rise on to your toes
- Return to the starting position, controlling the movement as you lower your heels to the ground
- Start with a small number daily 5-10 and slowly increase to 30 a day
2. Calf stretches:
- Start in a standing position, hold on to a table or chair for support and place one foot flat on the floor behind you keeping the knee straight
- Keep the toes pointing forwards and your heel on the floor
- Bend the knee of the front leg, moving your body forwards, until you feel a stretch in your calf of the back leg
- Make sure your heel does not come off the floor and your back knee does not bend
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat x2 on each leg
Don’t let preventable problems cause holiday havoc, put your feet first and prepare ahead for a pain free holiday adventure. All the best, Deb.