Avoiding foot and lower leg pain when traveling


Traveling – as fabulous as it is – often leaves us exhausted due to deviations from our daily patterns of movement and activity. Daily sightseeing schedules of 15-hours become the norm.

Travel usually begins with a prolonged period of sitting on a plane, in a car, bus or train. We then proceed to hoist luggage from place to place while standing in awkward positions. Finally, we tend to walk much greater distances while on holiday.  This shift in our daily routine that requires more physical exertion can cause havoc for the lower back, shoulders, neck and feet if you are not prepared.

You can help prevent travel fatigue by being aware of impending causes and conditioning yourself to become stronger prior to departure.


Common conditions and causes of discomfort


Compared with typical daily movement, travel can involve substantially more walking. When the load on the lower leg and calf exceeds its tolerance, the tissues and structures don’t cope very well. Too, it is important to prepare for anticipated increased loads on the ankles and feet. Often, the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia (under the foot) become overstretched, inflamed and very painful. This can lead to problems known as Achilles tendinitis (or tendinopathy) and plantar fasciitis

A common cause of leg, ankle and foot pain, while traveling, associates with sudden acceleration of your walking volume (or step count). Most people walk approximately 10,000 steps per day (recommended minimum). However, while traveling, a daily count of 15,000 – 18,000 steps is more common.  This is particularly relevant if you are traveling abroad and utilizing public transport. The unanticipated increase in walking volume, compounded by additional weight of luggage or rucksacks, overtaxes lower leg and foot structures.

Another factor that contributes to overburdened legs is a change in footwear. If the design of your ‘holiday shoe’ varies from other shoes you typically wear, your feet can suffer discomfort. This is especially relevant if the height differential (the vertical difference between height of the heel and the front of the shoe) decreases. Too, if there is less arch support in your “holiday shoes,” your feet can suffer. Tendons and muscles in the feet and ankle need time to adjust and build resilience to these changes.


Four Tips to Prevent Foot and Calf Pain


Reduce your chance of encountering foot and calf pain when traveling with these tips:

  1. Choose your travel footwear wisely:
    • Ensure your footwear is always well fitted with good arch support. If you are wearing athletic type shoes, they should be less than a year old.
    • Examine the shoe differential (the vertical difference between the height of the heel and the front of the shoe). This dimension should not deviate from walking shoes you typically wear.
  2. Practice walking in your travel shoes at least a month prior to your journey
  3. Prepare by increasing your walking distance and duration by 10 % each week. Initiate this ‘training’ 2-3 months prior to your travel date. Your body will become conditions  to the loads that it will encounter when traveling.
  4. If you will be walking with a rucksack (backpack), consider wearing it as you train for your holiday. Gradually increase the load (weight) to simulate the conditions you may experience while on holiday. Pay attention to your posture with a weighted rucksack so that you remain upright with a neutral spine.       


Exercise for strong and flexible calves


Heel Raise:

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet at hips-width apart.  Keeping your knees straight, rise on to your toes
  2. Return to the starting position, controlling the movement as you lower your heels to the ground
  3. Start with a small number daily 5-10 and slowly increase to 30 a day

Calf Stretch:

  1. 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
  2. Keep the toes pointing forwards and your heel on the floor
  3. Bend the knee of the front leg, moving your body forwards, until you feel a stretch in your calf of the back leg
  4. Make sure your heel does not rise off the floor and your back knee does not bend
  5. 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.