Put your feet first

Talus bone, peroneal tendon, posterior tibail tendon, plantar fascia, cubiod, navicular … various bones and tendons of the feet that I’ve injured or irritated during the past few months. I feel like I deserve an honorary medical degree for all the anatomy I’ve learned in such a short span of time.

After a walking boot, weeks without running, and bi-weekly physical therapy sessions, my feet have constantly been on my mind.

Every twinge worries me.

Was that run a mistake? Will I be too sore to run tomorrow? Am I doing permanent damage?

Was it nothing? Am I too focused on my feet? Are those phantom pains?

However, the one positive result that’s come from the strife, tears and frustration is that I now have great lessons to share on keeping your feet healthy!

Please read below and take the lessons to heart. Injuring your feet is a nightmare. As my physical therapist said, “Feet are tricky. They’re hard to heal because you can never fully rest them.”

While it’s true that you can’t fully rest your feet (unless you want to borrow my walking boot), you can take steps to care for them.

  • Lesson 1: Respect the role your feet play.

During a run, your feet absorb two to three times your body weight with each stride, so they deserve the same care and attention that you give to your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

Beyond that, your feet take you through all of your daily activities, not just running or other forms of exercise. Keeping them healthy and strong will make your life much happier — trust me!

Until I was unable to walk my dog, traverse Costco, and make it across campus, I didn’t realize how important foot health was to my daily functioning.

  • Lesson 2: Stretch and strengthen your feet with the same care that you give other body parts.

Once you realize the importance of your feet, you’ll be more motivated to take time to keep them healthy. Click here for stretches and here for strengthening exercises that will keep your feet at their best.

Remember that your body is a kinetic chain (with your feet being on the end of that chain), so other muscles need be strong and limber in order to prevent foot issues. Many of your foot tendons feed into your calves, so stretching your calves will keep your foot muscles loose. Weak hips will impact your stride and gait, placing undue stress on your feet.

I stretch my feet before and after every run now, and my physical therapist has me using a Thera-Band every night to perform ankle strengthening exercises. I now have veiny, muscular ankles from all the exercises! Each time I roll out my calves after a run, my feet immediately feel less achy … it’s truly amazing!

  • Lesson 3: Listen when your feet ask for rest

Have you ever looked forward to sitting down at the end of the day because your feet were terribly achy? If you encounter one of those days, consider skipping your run the next day. Bike or swim to give the feet a break while still getting your cardio in or just take a complete rest. If you want to be even more proactive, soak your achy feet in warm water and Epsom salt; you’ll relax the foot muscles and release tension.

Resting early on will prevent major injuries. Once you feel pulls and pain in localized areas, your problems are more serious. When those pains occur, give yourself a few days of complete rest before testing it out again on a short, easy run. If problems still persist, it’s time to visit a doctor. If you keep running through pain and putting pressure on your feet, your problems won’t resolve.

I danced the night away at a wedding in flimsy sandals, ignoring the pulling sensation in my peroneal tendon. The next day I walked around downtown Alexandria, Virginia, in flip flops and went back out for a walking ghost tour that night even though my feet were so sore that I wanted to cry. Two days later I went on a run and felt excruciating pain at the front of my ankle, but I kept on running. A week later, I was in a walking boot with a stress reaction in my talus bone.

  • Lesson 4: Outfit your feet properly.

It’s worth visiting a running store when it’s time to purchase new shoes. A trained employee will watch you walk or run and determine the amount of support you need in a pair of shoes; you can also discuss prior injuries with the employee. You’ll want to try on different brands with similar support to determine which brand provides you with optimal comfort. Many running stores have a treadmill for you to run on while wearing the shoes, which you should take advantage of! Just because a shoe is comfortable when you stand doesn’t mean it’ll be comfortable when you run.

If you have arch pain or injuries caused from over or under pronation, you should consider specialty insoles. There are a variety of insoles based on specific needs and running patterns. It’s best to first seek advice from a doctor prior to buying insoles, but oftentimes insoles can help you overcome an injury or irritation. If your issues are more severe, a doctor may prescribe custom orthotics, but these are purchased through a doctor  — not a running store — since they are customized to your feet.

Invest in moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. Cotton socks may be cheaper, but you’ll regret buying them!

I was recently prescribed insoles to help support my inner arches while my posterior tibial tendonitis heals. My doctor believes I may need to run in them for life since I overpronate and put stress on the tendons even in supportive shoes. In the past, I’ve just stuck with motion-control or stability shoes, but now that’s no longer enough to prevent further irritation of my posterior tibial tendons. After a few weeks running with the insoles, I’ve noticed major improvements — progress I wasn’t seeing with physical therapy visits and exercises alone.happy feet.jpg


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