There’s nothing quite like a hearty walk in Britain’s finest countryside spots.
That fresh air, the scenery, a cheeky pint in a local pub – a walk in the countryside is one of our most favourite activities.
Walking injuries, though, are more common than you think and sports therapist Jamie Webb says he has helped many walkers overcome injuries which are usually caused by similar problems.
“Classically knee pain is the most common condition we see,” Jamie explains.
“Some people struggle uphill but most struggle with the downhill. This isn’t arthritis or age; this is merely due to muscle tightness affecting the sensation in the knee.
“The next most common condition is sprained ankles, usually from uneven ground. Ankle sprains do get better in time but left untreated they can cause compensatory movement patterns elsewhere which may result in longer term pain in the ankle or elsewhere, classically in the lower back.”
So before you head off for a ramble or a gentle stroll, Jamie shares the six best leg stretches to help you avoid injury.
1. Quadricep stretch
Targets: The nerve (femoral) which affects sensation in the knee runs between the quadriceps (the muscles in the front of your thigh) and the adductors (the muscles on the inside of your thigh).
“We need to keep these areas relaxed to minimise any extra tension on the nerve,” explains Jamie.
The exercise: Pull your ankle up towards your backside. If the stretch is comfortable then push your pelvis upwards and outwards, as if you were doing a pelvic thrust, to increase the stretch.
2. Leg pit
Targets: This is the term used for the bit between the adductors and quadriceps (see above).
The exercise: Find a table, chair or something of a suitable height and stand side-on to it. Put your foot up onto the surface and rotate the leg in so that the inside ankle bone is in contact with the surface.
To increase the stretch, bend the opposite knee bringing your body downwards towards the floor.
3. Quadricep extension
Targets: The muscles in the front of your thigh.
The exercise: Start by sitting on your haunches on the floor, feet pointed out behind you.
If you find it difficult to simply do this, just hold there. For the more flexible take your hands out behind you for support and push your pelvis up so it’s flat. For extra stretch, tip your head back too.
4. Lumbar extension
Targets: This stretch affects the area from which the nerve for the knee comes from.
The exercise: If you have an existing back condition, skip this stretch. Lay across a sofa, bed or ideally a Swiss Ball and let everything relax. If you don’t have an ideal space, just let your legs hang off your bed and raise your arms above your head.
5. Hamstring stretch
Targets: If you tend to get problems at the back of your knee this stretch is the one for you. It can also help with general knee pain as the mechanics require good hamstring contraction for a stable knee.
The exercise: Place the back of your heel up on a surface and lean forward to bring the stretch on. The variation is to rotate the foot either inwards or outwards to affect different muscles (the hamstring is actually three different muscles).
6. Calf stretches
Targets: Calves can get tight especially while walking up hill and particularly after an ankle sprain. This stretch is useful as one of the calf muscles goes above the knee and one attaches below the knee.
The exercise: The standard stretch is to stretch the leg out behind you and fully extend the knee. For a deeper stretch, bring the foot forwards slightly and bend at the knee. This should stretch lower into your calf.
These stretches should be held for a minute each. Speak to your GP if you have ongoing pain or problems.