If you run for long enough, you’ll eventually feel it in your feet. Sometimes a day of rest is enough, but more serious injuries take longer and sometimes need medical intervention. No one wants that, right? But some simple and routine care for your feet can go a long way toward keeping you up and running.
No one can completely prevent foot or ankle injuries while running (like, for instance, if you roll off a path or step in a hole you didn’t see), but taking time out of your running routine to stretch & strengthen your feet and ankles will help avoid some of the repetitive use injuries that can land you in the doctor’s office seeking relief.
Dr. John Marcel, a Novant Health orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle reconstruction, says stress fractures are one of the biggest issues he sees, and also one of the hardest to treat.
“The earlier it’s treated, the easier it is to treat and the sooner they get over it,” says Dr. Marcel. He and Will Hayes of Novant Health Sports Performance provided us with some intel on healthy feet, and how to keep them that way.
Get the Right Shoe —
If you have high arches, you might need arch supports and a softer insole than someone whose feet are flatter. Flatter feet need a stiffer shoe. Treat yourself to a fitting, if you’re not sure what’s best for you — and stick with it if it works.
“Going from one that’s stiff to one that’s soft can cause stress fractures,” says Dr. Marcel. You may even consider a custom orthotic — though they can be pricey. And get a new pair every 400-500 miles to make sure cushioning and support aren’t compromised.
— Then Take Them Off
“Get out of your shoes and walk around barefoot,” says Hayes. Bare feet or a minimalist shoe (think “toe shoes”) will strengthen the muscles around your foot and ankle joints.
And while you’re barefoot, treat the tissues on the bottom of your feet to some love. It helps all of the little muscles in your foot recover from the “trauma” of running. It’s easy enough to do while watching TV or reading your social pages.
“Roll the bottom of your feet with a ball, like foam roller type ball,” says Hayes. “That can restore health and vitality of that muscle.” Foam roll your calves while you’re at it for a +1 on care.
Yeah, yeah — you’ve heard it before: You need to stretch before running. But are you doing it right?
“Runners have stiff ankles because of repetitive motion over and over again,” says Hayes. He suggests standing facing a wall, one foot in front of the other a few inches from the wall. Keep the front foot flat, and see how far you can press your knee over your foot. “Two inches or more over is optimal,” he says. “A lot of runners can’t do it.”
Dr. Marcel lists that particular stretch as a good one before and after running, too. It can prevent heel cord (Achilles heel) injuries by gently pulling the tendon into activity. If you’re also plagued by plantar fasciitis, give yourself time to do this stretch as a warm-up and warm-down for your calves and feet. It’s worth the extra few minutes.
The Vitamin of D Feet —
Eat your vegetables, your proteins, and your calcium daily to keep bones and tissues healthy and strong. And while most of us know about our healthy carb/ protein/ fat balance, don’t underestimate the importance of vitamin D. Biologically, Vitamin D is known to ensure bone density. Multiple studies, like this one noted in The Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery, find that large numbers of patients with stress fractures have low Vitamin D levels in their blood.
Dr. Marcel says he sees the same thing in his practice with runners. He notes that when patients start eating more Vitamin D — from cold-water fish like cod and halibut, or supplements — they get better, faster. He notes his experience is anecdotal, but studies with both athletes and military recruits have found the same thing.
Up your skins game
While you care for the bones and tissues inside your feet, don’t forget to care for what protects them — your skin. Blisters or infections can sideline you, or worse.
“Keep your feet dry,” advises Dr. Marcel. “Wear absorbent, breathable socks, and remove them when you’re done.” Dry feet prevent skin breakdown and keep blisters from forming.
“If you get a blister or sore, address it quickly to prevent infection. Use pads or cushions, and change shoes if they don’t fit properly.” And no one will argue with a warm foot bath, right?
Again, no one can prevent foot and ankle injuries entirely — but some prevention is worth the time and effort it takes to avoid an injury that can keep you sidelined for weeks.