If you have been running for any length of time, you have probably experienced some sort of foot pain. It is common in both new and experienced runners. Some of these are simple problems that can be fixed quite easily. Others, however, require much more time and energy to deal with.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that we are not doctors and while we can explain to you the descriptions, common causes, and likely remedies for each problem, this article can by no means diagnose you.
Furthermore, if you are experiencing enough pain in your foot that it has affected your running and caused you to look up this article, we recommend you see a podiatrist to address your particular injury.
If you are thinking “Wait, that’s not a foot problem, be absolutely right. However, for any activity, you have to make sure you have the correct equipment. Many foot problems along with a host of other injuries may have very little to do with you but are mostly caused by improper equipment.
If you are having foot pains, or any pain whatsoever, one of the first things you need to look at are your shoes. How long have you had them? Are they worn out? Are they broken in yet? Are they the right shoes to compliment your needs?
with that, you need to address another series of questions. Do you have the right shoe for your foot strike and form? Are they designed for the surfaces you are running? Do they have enough cushioning for what your body needs?
This may seem like a lot of questions, but each needs to be answered with dailyn a daily basis, especially if you are having foot injuries.
There is a reason that there are hundreds of running shoes on the market, dozens from each brand. Each shoe is designed for a specific purpose so make sure you are choosing the correct shoe for you and switching it out regularly when the cushioning starts to break down.
If you do these things consistently, you may avoid most foot problems before they even start.
1. Plantar Fasciitis
This is the single most common foot injury claimed by runners. Plantar fasciitis is at its root, an overuse injury. This injury is indicative of pain ranging anywhere from the fronch all the way through your heel. This follows the plane of the plantar fascia, which gives its name to the injury.
It will be most painful when you wake up in the morning while your muscles are cold and tight but should ease off throughout the day as you move around and your muscles stretch out. At first, plantar fasciitis may only be a mild annoyance, but if you ignore this pain for too long, it will likely get worse.
If your foot begins to bother you as you start running more that does not mean you have to stop and that your body is now unable to adapt. You likely only have to work on a few things to help ease off your newfound pain.
Since, plantar fasciitis is a pain in a tendon in your foot running from your toes through your heel, to help avoid this injury and treat it while you have it, work on increasing your mobility in your foot and lower leg and work on building strength in the same areas. This will help your body absorb the various shocks that go through the plantar fascia as you run and reduce the stress put on it.
This can be caused by a variety of issues. The first of which is improper footwear, but it can also be caused by weak muscles, especially in the lower leg, a lack of mobility, or adding too much training (especially speed work or hill repeats, which keep you up on your toes more and therefore add more stress into your plantar fascia), before your body learns to adapt.
Sometimes, in order to treat plantar fasciitis, you will have to take some time off to allow your body to heal. But, if the pain is not too intense and you have not had it for long, you can likely work through it by working on your lower leg and foot mobility, increasing your strength in those regions, and doing other recovery activities such as icing or rolling.
2. Stress Fractures
Arguably the worst injury on this list, stress fractures can keep you out of running for a significant length of time.
A stress fracture is exactly what it sounds like, a fracture, usually small, in a bone caused by stress. These are caused by repeated shocks to the bones in your foot. Each time you take a step, whether walking or running, a variety of forces are working their way through your foot.
Most of these forces are absorbed into muscles and tendons, but some work their way into your bones and do damage. If that damage is greater than the amount your body can recover from, and this damage is repeated on a continuous basis, it could lead to stress fractures.
Stress fractures are caused by doing too much on your foot before the body is able to adapt. This may be caused by a variety of reasons. The first of which is improper footwear (seeing a theme here?). Increasing your training too quickly before your body is able to adapt can also cause stress fractures. Increasing lower leg strength and mobility, along with working on proper form, will all help reduce the risk of a stress fracture injury.
Unlike plantar fasciitis, a stress fracture cannot be worked through. You will need to see a doctor for an x-ray or bone scan and if you have a stress fracture, you are likely looking at multiple weeks, sometimes months, of cross-training.
Similar to plantar fasciitis, tendonitis is a soft tissue injury. The foot has many tendons, doing a variety of jobs to help allow your foot to move throughout its various motions. If too much stress is put on any of these tendons, however, they may become sore, leading to tendonitis.
This will often feel very similar to the pain of a stress fracture but can be differentiated by how the pain is caused. Instead of pain on impact, which you would have from a stress fracture, tendonitis will be inflamed by applying pressure on your foot as you move it through its range of motion.
This can be caused by improper footwear (Again, we know!), which, if they don’t provide the right amount of support, could force the tendons in your foot to work extra hard to carry your body through its running form. Tendonitis can also be caused by lower leg weakness and inflexibility (heard that before?), especially in the calves and Achilles.
Like plantar fasciitis though, you rarely need to take off an extreme amount of time with tendonitis. You may want to take off a few days to allow your body the extra time to recover, but you won’t successfully solve the problem until you increase your strength and improve your mobility in your lower leg.
4. Heel Spurs
We are now venturing into territory that will be a little less common for most runners. Heel spurs, however, are still not unheard of, but they will not be as ubiquitous throughout the running community as plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and tendonitis.
Heel spurs may feel very similar to plantar fasciitis, but the pain is actually caused by an extension of the heel spur, pressing into your heel and extending the tendons that run over it, such as the same tendon (the plantar fascia) that causes plantar fasciitis. Therefore your pain is not coming from the bone itself, but instead from the tendons around it that have been misplaced due to the extra calcium deposit.
Heel spurs are caused by those calcium deposits, which can accumulate on the heel bone. They are often caused by many smaller soft tissue injuries in the foot, some of which you may not even notice, which can lead, over a long period of time such as half a year, to a deposit of calcium that makes these little soft tissue injuries worse.
This is another injury that is very difficult to treat yourself. While there is quite a bit you can do to ease the pain, such as icing, wearing heel pads, or using arch supports, if you think you have heel spurs it is highly advised you see a foot doctor.
They may recommend that you undergo a procedure to surgically remove the spur or may recommend specialized orthotics to fix the weight distribution problem in your foot that is causing the heel spurs.
What Can I Do to Avoid Getting Injured?
1. Shoes. Again.
To reiterate, you need proper shoes. We put this in the first section because it is the easiest and the fastest solution to most of these injuries if you have improper footwear, but if having the right shoes is not your problem, here are some other things you can do to avoid common foot injuries.
Increase Lower Leg and Foot Mobility
Most orthopedists and sports medicine trainers will tell you that if an area is bothering you, you need to not only stretch that area, but stretch all the areas around it as well. That means, if you are having issues with your foot, you need to work on the flexibility in your toes, foot, ankle, and calf. It would not hurt to work on your flexibility further up the chain either.
But especially with the four regions mentioned, it is effective to go through a variety of stretches on all of these regions multiple times a day. Personally, I like to do a light rolling session when I wake up, then I will get in a comprehensive stretching session after my run, and if I am really on top of it, I will stretch again before I go to bed.
I have found this to be incredibly effective in getting rid of both foot injuries and other injuries so long as you stick to the instructions of whatever stretch you are doing.
3. Improve Lower Leg and Foot Strength
This doesn’t mean hundreds of calf raises. While that is an excellent exercise to increase your calf muscle, there are many little exercises to improve the muscles below your knee.
What I find most helpful is to find a little routine that covers as many of the muscles as you can, I use one prescribed by an older athletic trainer, and do that routine consistently. Even if your pain goes away, keep working on the strengthening as you do not want your foot pain to come back anytime soon.
There are a surprising amount of muscles in there, but by strengthening each and everyone, you will reduce your likelihood of suffering foot injuries and you’ll likely shave a couple of seconds off that 5k PR in the process.
4. Train Smart
Especially with overuse injuries, one of the easiest solutions to avoiding them is to be smart about your training. If you’ve been running 30 miles a week for the last 40 years of your life, don’t go out and run 80 miles a week for the next three weeks. If you’ve never done a run longer than 7 miles, think twice before deciding to go race that 100-miler.
The body takes time to adapt. No matter how strong you think you are, the body needs time to realize it is being exposed to a new stimulus and build up the necessary precautions to handle it.
This is not the place for a training plan, but it is incredibly useful to have a coach or other experienced eye looking at your training to make sure that whatever improvements you are trying to make are being achieved through steady, deliberate growth that allows your body to adapt as the training plan gets harder.
Meanwhile continue to follow good stretching and strengthening habits throughout any training plan.
See a Doctor
Injuries are highly individualized. Even if you and I are suffering from the exact same injury, have experienced it for the same length of time, and are very similar athletes, we may be experiencing it for completely different reasons.
For instance, if we both have plantar fasciitis, it may be more useful to me to improve my lower leg strength where you may only need to buy new orthotics to help change the way your foot is absorbing the forces of impact from running.
The point is, this is a very individualized sport and you’ll need someone that understands all these individualities to make an informed decision about any injury.
This is why we highly recommend that you see an orthopedist, sports medicine trainer, or another expert if the pain in your foot is enough to concern you (which, if you are reading this article, it likely does). Only someone with the proper medical background will be able to give you proper advice on how to deal with your injury.
By doing this, you can save yourself from significant amounts of pain and enormous time off. Catching an injury early, and having it looked at by experts (in addition to doing what these experts tell you to do) can make a major difference in your training by getting you back on track and where you want to be. It is very rare that the trip is not worth it.
With nearly any foot injury, first, make sure that the shoes you have been running with are not worn out, have not been used for well over 500 miles, are made for the type of running you are trying to do in them and have the right elements to account for your form and foot strike. That is always a stepping one.
After that, it never hurts to improve the mobility and strength in your foot and lower leg. In addition to helping you to reduce injury, it may help you to become a faster runner as well. Little things done correctly each day can make a big difference over a long period of time.
If none of those solutions seem to be helping you, you may want to take some time off and see a doctor get a better idea of what is bothering you and how you should go about treating it.
Also, no matter how many articles you read, unless you went to medical school, nothing can replace a trained doctor or similar expert on the topic that understands your situation individually and can recommend to you what they believe the best plan would be based on your individual injury and circumstances.
Happy running and we hope that your foot gets better soon!