Walking on the beach brings many joys: the water gently washing your feet, the soft sand between your toes, and perhaps the sun setting in an explosion of color. If you have joint or muscle problems, however, a walk on the beach can be anything but pleasant. But with careful planning, everyone can enjoy the simple pleasure of strolling in the sand. Read on for some tips on how to keep your joints happy on the beach.
Tip #1: Start Slow. For your body, beach walking is actually a different movement from pavement or other hard-surface walking. When you walk on pavement, your heel hits the ground first, and then the rest of your foot follows and flattens out before pushing off the toe. In sand, your heel sinks as it strikes, and the rest of your foot can’t flatten out completely. To compensate, the muscles and tendons of your foot and ankle have to work harder to stabilize your foot on each step you take. As with any other exercise, you shouldn’t start off with too strenuous a workout.
Tip #2: Stretch Your Calves. Because of the mechanics of pushing your toe off of soft sand, your calves have to work much harder than they do on hard surfaces. A simple calf stretch (with one leg slightly bent and the other straight in front of you, pull the toe up until you feel a stretch in the calf) before and after your walk can help reduce sore muscles.
Tip #3: Avoid Softer Sand. The softer the sand, the harder the walk. The dry sand at the top of the beach is almost always very soft and difficult to walk on. Aim to walk at low tide when you have a better chance of finding packed, firmer sand. It will never be as hard as pavement, but it will give your feet a firmer surface. However, you also need to be aware of Tip #4 below…
Tip #4: Avoid Slanted Surfaces. Although the soft sand at the top of the beach makes walking difficult, it is usually a flat surface. Closer to the water, however, the beach often slants down toward the waves, which can also make walking difficult. Slanted surfaces make your muscles and tendons work harder to create stability—often leading to more pain. Watch the tides to see if there’s a time when wet, flat sand is an option for walking.
Tip #5: Keep Your Shoes On. Walking on the beach can strain your posterior tibial tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the bones of the foot. This tendon can tear with overuse, requiring rest and treatment. But you can avoid tears and strains by wearing supporting shoes while walking in sand.