Should You Walk When It Hurts?

Pain Can be a Sign to Stop or No Excuse to Skip Exercise

Hurt Ankle
Hurt Ankle. Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

We all get aches and pains. But how does a person who walks for fitness know when pain means you should stop walking? When is it appropriate to keep going despite feeling pain? Pain after an injury is a good signal to rest. But being completely inactive can lead to deconditioning and result in more pain.

You get used to seeing professional athletes playing through pain, so you may think that is the heroic thing to do.

No pain, no gain, right? But pain can be the sign of an injury or condition that exercise can make worse. This is especially true for acute pain - a new pain you haven't had before.  Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offered these tips on when to keep exercising and when to stop:

When Have Pain But Should Continue to Exercise, with Caution:

  • You have sore and aching muscles. Some degree of muscle soreness is expected after you have a hard workout or are doing a new exercise.
  • You have discussed your pain with your doctor and he has approved your continuing to exercise.

Signs to Stop Exercising and See Your Doctor if:

  • You have swollen joints that are red and warm.
  • Exercise makes your joint pain worsen.
  • You have a fever. This is a sign of an infection.
  • You have a pain that makes you limp or hurts when you put weight on it. You may make the injury worse by walking.
  • A joint feels unstable or locks.
  • The pain is worse after you exercise and it doesn't get better over time.

    Walking with Arthritis Pain

    Arthritis pain and stiffness is not a reason to avoid exercise. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says regular physical activity is necessary for people with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions. The CDC says moderate-intensity, low-impact physical activity can reduce pain, improve function, and provide a happier and better quality of life without making the arthritis symptoms worse.

    Walking is one such activity that is of moderate intensity and that does not involve twisting or high impact on the joints. Strength training and balance exercises are also recommended. How can you tell if it is the wrong exercise or too much? The Arthritis Foundation says that if the exercise leads to increased pain lasting an hour or more after exercise, it is probably not the right one for you.
    More: Exercise Guidelines for Arthritis

    Walking with Low Back Pain

    If you have chronic low back pain, you should remain active with physical activities including aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, muscle strengthening and stretching. Paying attention to your posture during walking is also useful.
    More: Walking and Low Back Pain

    More Common Walking Pain Problems

    • Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis: Pain in the ball of your foot or your heel is a sign that you need to cut back on walking while it heals. Find out more.
    • Shin Splints: This pain in your shins is common when you start walking, speed up or change to a new pair of shoes. Find out how to deal with it.
    • Sprains: A twisted ankle or knee is a common walking injury. You are going to want to stop walking and give it immediate first aid, followed up by seeing your doctor to ensure it isn't broken. It is going to require some rest and healing.

      Bottom line, pay attention to pain and soreness. Sometimes it is a sign to stop, other times you can continue walking, but use caution.


      Mayo Women's HealthSource, September, 2004

      "Physical Activity for Arthritis." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 7, 2016.

      NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 88. National Collaborating Centre for Primary Care (UK). London: Royal College of General Practitioners (UK); 2009 May.