Cause Walking: How to Protect Your Feet Before, During and After the Event
After the Walk
After your walk, be sure to take care of any foot conditions and practice good foot hygiene. Some of the problems I often see after a cause walk or run include the following:
Blisters – These can be a problem even with the best precautions, because most people’s feet are not acclimated to walking long distances, and the skin is not conditioned enough to resist the prolonged friction and shear force that causes blisters. Don’t wait until you feel the pain of a blister to attend to it. Pay attention to “hot spots” (rubbing and irritation) and stop and cover them with moleskin, bandages or adhesive tape before they become blisters. A good first aid kit will include these items.
Stress fractures - Prolonged pounding on hard surfaces, which occurs with walking as well as running, can have a cumulative effect on the bones of the feet. These fractures typically develop from overuse, not because of traumatic injury. If your footwear provides sufficient shock absorption, you may be able to prevent a stress fracture.
Plantar fasciitis - The plantar fascia runs from the front of the heel bone to the toes on the underside of the feet, and is the primary support for the feet. Repetitive stress and rapid increases in activity levels can lead to inflammation, most often at the attachment to the heel, and the condition can be very painful (in some cases, partial tears can develop in the fascia—a separate condition from plantar fasciitis that can be diagnosed via ultrasound). Preventive strategies for plantar fasciitis include stretching and avoiding rapid increases in distance or exertion levels (see the section, “Train and condition yourself”). Another related condition is plantar fibromas, which are fatty cysts that can enlarge and become painful during extended walks.
Achilles tendon pain and tendinitis – An Achilles tendon tear, normally caused by overuse/overtraining, can be devastating; healing, rehabilitation and recovery periods can exceed six months following the injury. The tendon runs from the back of your heel up the back part of your leg and connects the calf muscles with the heel bone. After age 30, the Achilles tendon becomes more vulnerable to injury because blood flow to the area decreases and the tendon loses elasticity. With extended use in distance walks, it can become inflamed. Stretching is important to prevent injuries, as is attention to any pain or tenderness. If you feel pain in the Achilles tendon area, stop immediately and rest. If pain continues after you start walking again, stop walking and rest. See a doctor or foot health professional if you still have pain the next day.
Sesamoiditis and injured sesamoids – Right under the big toe are two small bones encased in a tendon. They act like pulleys by providing a smooth surface over which the tendon can move, enhancing its ability to move the muscles during walking. When these small bones become inflamed, usually from repetitive impact and overuse, they can become very painful. Proper protection and cushioning for the forefoot can help prevent sesamoid injuries, as can taking care not to increase distances too quickly during training and conditioning.
Gout - Dehydration can lead to gout, particularly in women who are postmenopausal. Gout is caused by high concentrations of uric acid in the blood and often causes pain in the big toe area of the foot. It can also affect the ankles, knees and other joints. If you are already predisposed to gout, it is especially important to stay well hydrated. If you suspect that you have gout, consult your physician, who can provide advice on how to treat the condition.
Some foot types can predispose people to problems in the joints above the feet. For example, flat arches can cause knee problems and lower back pain, whereas high arches may predispose someone to balance problems, Achilles tendon problems and hip pain. If you have flat or very low arches, or very high arches, consult a foot health professional, who can advise you on how best to approach a cause walk and/or prescribe orthotics or inserts to address your condition.
Participating in a distance walk for a cause can be a great experience -- full of good will, companionship and the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a difference by supporting a worthy cause. Train and prepare properly, and it will be both fulfilling and fun!