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Walkathons Present Foot Health Challenges for Sedentary Adults

Lack of preparation or recovery measures increase risk for pain and injury.

With warmer weather on the way and the push for participation in awareness walks in full swing, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons reminds adults that, without adequate preparation, long-distance walking can result in pain and even injury to the bones and tendons in the foot and ankle. The risk is especially high for individuals who do not engage in regular exercise.

From single-day solidarity walks and multiday walkathons to fun runs that welcome walkers, participation in these family-friendly events is on the rise. But while these events are accessible and appealing to a wide variety of abilities and fitness levels, they present a special concern for adults who otherwise lead sedentary lifestyles.

There is a common misconception that walking is an easy activity. On the contrary: walking for longer periods of time or far distances is hard on the body's support structures: over longer distances, feet and ankles can swell or become sore, and tired walkers can twist an ankle, develop tendonitis and tenosynovitis or rupture an Achilles tendon. 

"Most adults do far less walking and standing for long periods of time, despite what they might think," says Thanh Dinh, DPM, FACFAS, a Boston-based foot and ankle surgeon and Fellow member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. "There is potential for real harm, especially for individuals who may have existing structural foot deformities, including bunions or other problems, such as diabetes. Hence, it is especially important to prepare for the event by gradually increasing the intensity and duration of activity."

But conditioning programs that help individuals prepare for a distance walk are limited—unlike the numerous training programs aimed at helping nonrunners get ready to run even short distances—and most walkers do not recognize that they need to prepare at all. "Adults who engage in these activities must also be educated to know when to take a break and to not just 'work through the pain,'" continues Dr. Dinh. "Knowing the signs of minor injury can help prevent a major injury."

With proper training and recovery techniques, these fun social events can remain just that—fun.