For many, running is an outlet, a release and exoneration of a long day or an even longer week. For others, it’s the build up, the training to something great like participating in a marathon or qualifying event. No matter the passion that drives you to run, if foot pain is keeping you from hitting the pavement (or trails), don’t miss these 5 tips:
#1 Know Your Feet
A fact which surprises most runners? One quarter of all the bones in your body are in your foot. In addition to that, there are over 130 joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves and tendons all perfectly synced in each foot to operate as a complex machine, powering your every movement, helping you push off, and absorbing the shock with each landing.
Not all feet are made equal. Knowing the type of arch (high, flat, neutral) you have and how your feet pronate (naturally roll inward when walking and running to accommodate the shock of impact and contour of the ground) is a first step to finding the right type of running shoe, style, and distance for you.
With a well-used pair of old running shoes, check the wear pattern, or simply do the wet test - step out of a pool of water with bare feet onto a dry towel or paper bag, and leave footprints. If your footprint leaves little but a crescent moon shape, your arch is high and you are likely under-pronating (your foot and ankle roll outward when walking).
If your footprint has barely any visible arch, you are overpronating (your foot and ankle roll inward when walking and you have flatter feet). And if there is an even distribution of crescent moon shape you have the most common kind of pronation - neutral and even weight distribution. Understanding your foot type will help you in finding the right type of stretches, shoes, and possibly orthotics for your feet.
#2 Wear A Proper Fitting Shoe
Seems simple enough, but did you know that the type of running shoe you wear might vary by your foot type and pronation? Or that you should have about a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe?
Running shoes may often size up for you compared to your casual shoes because while you want them to fit snug around the midfoot area and hug your heel, you’re creating way more action and shock absorption in a running shoe, and simply require added cushioning, support and room.
Overly tight shoes can result in injury, pain, and skin irritation.On the flipside, if your running shoe is too loose and your heel slips or the ball of your foot slides around, you are lacking the ankle support and stability required to run successfully without injuring yourself.
Lacing techniques might help tighten your running shoe to the right fit, but getting your foot measured and seeking out the best shoe for you to begin with is best. Buy for your type of running (road, trail, cross-training) and and for your arch, pronation and comfort.
#3 Wear Orthotic Inserts
Foot pain from varying conditions, injuries or ailments - commonly plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, hammer toe, or metatarsalgia - can be aided somewhat with an orthotic insert. Depending on where you experience pain in the foot, ankle or lower leg, a doctor may be able to help narrow down the cause and recommend a specific orthotic insert (or refer you to a podiatrist or sports medicine specialist to help).
Plantar fasciitis insoles unique provide cushioning, shock absorption and arch support to runners who are experiencing severe heel pain from an inflamed or torn plantar fascia tissue. Orthotics to treat tendonitis or shin splints on the other hand will focus more support on foot alignment and stabilizing the ankle to reduce stress on the lower leg.
Smaller inserts for the balls of the feet help protect the metatarsals and aid in preventing impact and irritation for runners with hammer toe. Remember, inserts take up room in the shoe, so placing one in your shoe and squeezing your foot in with it might not leave much wiggle room thus negating any benefits the insert is supposed to provide.
#4 Don’t Overdo It
As goes for any athletic training or physical activity, overdoing it can quickly lead to injury. Excessive hill work, increasing your running mileage drastically in a short amount of time, overtraining, and speedwork can all lead to inflammation, swelling, and even tearing of the tendons and muscles used in running.
Interestingly, areas that tend to breed this type of injury like the plantar fascia tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, or the Achilles tendon that runs down the calf to the heel, operate on a lower blood supply than other areas of the body. Blood flow is key to healing, so if you do a number on your feet by overtraining, recovery time can multiply quickly if proper treatment isn’t administered.
#5 Work Out Your Feet
Stretching and strength-training for runners isn’t all about hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings - stretching and strength training play an important role in supporting foot health when running too.
Stretching your calf muscle and soleus can help prevent achilles tendonitis while toe exercises (like picking up mini game pieces with your toes) and foot stretches can help with plantar fasciitis pain. Sitting in a chair barefoot, bring your right leg up to rest on your left. With your right hand, pull on your toes backwards towards your shin.
This stretches the plantar fascia tissue and has been shown when done in 10 reps 3 times a day to help 77% of runners with plantar fasciitis return to normal running within 3 to 6 months. Talk with your doctor or running community about other exercises and stretches that can strengthen your foot muscles and build greater flexibility too.
It’s one thing to run through the mild pain and discomfort that may accompany the beginning of your run, but if chronic dull to severe pain in your legs and feet is following you everywhere you go, it may be time to address it.
Preventing common conditions that cause runners pain is as simple as being body aware and investing in shoes that both power your movement but also support your foot type and running style. An ankle or foot injury can up-end your favorite hobby or training session - be smart about foot health and it doesn’t have to!