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Top 5 Foot Problems In Runners – Tips For Prevention


Running is an easy, healthy, affordable form of exercise. Unfortunately, runners are susceptible to foot problems, including heel pain, tendonitis, ankle sprains, stress fractures and blisters. Proper shoe fitting and training are two of the easiest ways to prevent foot and ankle injuries while running. In this blog we discuss the top 5 foot problems in runners and simple tips for treatment and prevention.

  1. Heel pain and plantar fasciitis:

    Plantar fasciitis is caused by excess stress on the ligament-like structure within the arch of the foot. The tearing causes inflammation and the inflammation causes pain, most commonly on the inside of the heel. Over a million runners develop plantar fasciitis each year. Although classic plantar fasciitis pain occurs at the heel upon taking a step first thing in the morning, this is not always true for runners. Many runners experience pain on the bottom of the heel and through the arch during the first  10-15 minutes of a run. In most cases, it works itself out as the run progresses, but returns after the run is over, or later in the day.  To prevent the development of plantar fasciitis when running or to help avoid re-injury, pay special attention to your shoes. Check your shoes for support and make sure they do not fold in the middle. Take a shoe by the heel and press the toe downwards. If the shoe bends, it is far too flexible. Perform this simple test on all new pairs of shoes to ensure that they are all supportive. Just one short run in an old pair of shoes can also cause enough stress on the plantar fascia to commence the process of developing plantar fasciitis. Throw out all old shoes when they are worn out. If you are prone to developing arch pain or plantar fasciitis, stretch the arch for at least 1 minute before you run. Place one foot on the opposite knee while seated and grab the toes. Pull both the ankle and the toes back, and you should be able to palpate the plantar fascia. Perform this stretch after you’ve finished running as well. Calf stretching is also beneficial, but if not done properly, can lead to Achilles tendon problems. Warm up first, then perform calf stretches. Repeat the stretches when you are finished. Slowly progress with training by gradually adding distance and hills, and increasing pace and stride.

  2. Achilles tendonitis:

    Achilles tendonitis and calf related injuries are the most common injuries experienced by runners. Pain may gradually develop at the back of the heel or calf, or come on suddenly as a sharp pain. Pain at the beginning of a run is common as well as pain and stiffness when first taking a step after waking up. Improper training, overtraining and poor footwear are the three most common causes. A sudden increase in distance or pace, or the addition of steep hill climbs can strain the muscles and tendons in the foot and ankle, resulting in micro-tears. These will cause pain and inflammation. Preventing of Achilles tendonitis and calf problems is similar to preventing plantar fasciitis. Appropriate shoes and training are important. Calf stretching should be performed after a 5-10 minute warm-up, and note that improper stretching and overstretching can cause injury.

  3. Stress fractures:

    A stress fracture is an incomplete break in the bone. In the foot, the long bones (metatarsals) are the most commonly affected. A sudden onset of pain and swelling on the top of the foot is indicative of a stress fracture. Stress fractures are generally not associated with blunt trauma or a specific injury, but are more often linked to unsupportive shoes combined with overuse. Individuals with flat feet, tight calves, hypermobility and overpronation are at the greatest risk. Those with very flexible feet tend to overstress the balls of their feet because the joints of the big toes tend to rise during the push-off phase of walking. The joint of the big toe doesn’t take its fair share of weight, and more force is exerted on the smaller metatarsal bones. People with tight calves have heels that lift earlier than normal when walking. This also places excess stress on the balls of the feet and the lesser metatarsals. Hypermobility and tight calf muscles are linked to overpronation and this triad of abnormal foot mechanics, in addition to poor quality shoes and overuse can lead to stress fractures. Supportive shoes, heel lifts, orthotics (if necessary), proper training and stretching are the keys to avoiding stress fractures.

  4. Ankle sprains:

    Sprained ankles are commonly experienced by runners. The most common injury is called an inversion ankle sprain, and it involves the ankle rolling out while the foot turns in. This causes a partial tearing of one or more ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Most ankle sprains are mild to moderate in severity, but some may be severe, involving total tearing of the ligaments. Rest, ice, compression and elevation will treat most ankle sprains. Mild ankle sprains will require 2-6 weeks of rest and support, while moderate sprains may take 6-12 weeks to heal. Severe sprains will take 12 weeks to a year to heal, and perhaps even surgery. A physician should be consulted in order to rule out a fracture or complete ligament tear.

  5. Blisters:

    Almost all regular runners have experienced blisters. They develop as a result of friction and shearing forces on the skin. Abnormal motion of the foot (such as pronation), excess moisture on the feet or in the socks, ill-fitting shoes and foot deformities all increase the chances of blisters forming. The body’s natural defense mechanism against excessive rubbing, irritating and shearing forces on the skin is to develop fluid between the outer layers of the skin. This creates a blister, which cushions and protects the lower layers of skin so that another layer can grow. Blisters can be prevented by wearing proper-fitting shoes and appropriate socks. Finding the right combination of shoes and shoes can be a challenge. Socks should be made out of a wicking material which facilitates the transfer of moisture from your skin to the outer layer of the sock, so that it can evaporate. Cotton socks absorb moisture like sponges and should be avoided. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends socks made with CoolMax. Shoes with mesh fabric allow for breathability and help with moisture evaporation. Supportive shoes that fit properly are important to avoid excessive movement within the shoe. If you have orthotics, make sure you run with them, as excessive pronation and abnormal foot motion also cause friction and skin shearing, contributing to blister formation.

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