4 Common Foot Problems of Runners and How to Prevent Them

With 26 bones, 33 joints, and an intricate network of more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles, your foot/ankle structure is one of the most complex parts of your body. While this construction makes your feet incredibly resilient and stable, it also leaves them vulnerable to various biomechanical problems, disorders, and injuries.

Foot pain becomes more likely when your feet are subjected to repetitive stress, as they are each time you hit your neighborhood roadways or the nearest wooded trail for your daily run.

But it’s not all bad news: You can attain the cardiovascular-improving, muscle-strengthening, bone-building, mood-lifting, and weight-maintaining benefits that running offers without succumbing to common foot and ankle problems — provided you take the right precautions.

At Optima Foot and Ankle in Bend, Oregon, our seasoned team offers a full scope of podiatry services, including simple preventive strategies for avoiding common running-related foot and ankle problems. Here’s what you should know if you’re an avid runner.

1. Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common overuse injury that affects the sole of your foot. It occurs when the thick band of tissue connecting your heel to your toes sustains repetitive, microscopic tears that cause collagen deterioration and acute inflammation.

What it feels like

Plantar fasciitis inflammation causes stabbing heel pain that eases with movement: You’re more likely to experience your worst symptoms during your first few steps of the day, or when you stand up after prolonged sitting. You may not experience symptoms when you run, but running can aggravate the problem.

How to prevent it

Prevent plantar fasciitis by wearing supportive, well-fitting running shoes and replacing them just before they’re worn out. Use custom orthotics to counteract problems that increase your risk of plantar fasciitis, like low arches or overpronation. Incorporate regular stretching and rest time into your routine, and increase running duration and intensity gradually.

2. Stress fracture

When weight-bearing bones are subjected to new stress — particularly when it’s repetitive — they aren’t always prepared to handle the increased workload. This is precisely what makes the small, weight-bearing bones in your feet more susceptible to stress fractures or tiny cracks commonly caused by overuse or a sudden increase in activity.

What it feels like

Stress fractures often cause pain and swelling that comes on gradually and eases with rest, making them difficult to diagnose. In most cases, the pain worsens over time and is aggravated by physical activity.

How to prevent it

Stress fractures happen when you’re doing more than your bones have adapted to withstand. To prevent them, it’s crucial to stretch and warm up before each training session, cool down properly afterward, and increase your running duration and intensity gradually. And as always, your running shoes should fit well and provide adequate cushioning.

3. Morton’s neuroma

Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the tissue that surrounds the small nerves leading to the toes. It often occurs when the metatarsal bones are compressed together in tight-fitting shoes. The problem can be intensified by overuse microtrauma in distance running or biomechanical foot problems like overpronation.

What it feels like

Morton’s neuroma is often likened to the feeling of stepping on a stone or marble every time the ball of your foot pushes off the ground. This acute ball-of-the-foot pain often occurs with a “pins-and-needles” feeling or numbness in your second, third, and fourth toes.

How to prevent it

Reduce your risk of Morton’s neuroma by choosing running shoes with a wide-toe box and plenty of padding to cushion the balls of your feet. Proper warm-ups and cool-downs are also key, as is getting adequate rest between training sessions and incorporating exercises to stretch and strengthen your feet.

4. Black toenails

Considered a rite of passage by many dedicated runners, a black toenail indicates bleeding or bruising on the nail bed beneath the nail itself. Commonly called “runner’s toe,” this nail bed trauma occurs when your toenail (usually of the big toe) repeatedly comes into forceful contact with the front or side of your shoe.

What it feels like

Black toenails aren’t always painful, but ongoing pressure and strain can trigger worsening irritation and discomfort. It can also lead to the development of a blood blister that lifts and loosens the affected toenail, causing it to fall off eventually.

How to prevent it

Avoid runner’s toe by wearing moisture-wicking socks, well-fitting running shoes, and trimming your toenails. Proper lacing techniques help optimize blood flow, support foot stability and flexibility, and prevent rubbing, tightness, and pressure. If you’re prone to toenail bruising, custom orthotics or silicone toe pads may help.

Keep your feet healthy

Whether you’re interested in correcting faulty foot biomechanics, selecting the right running shoe, learning helpful lower extremity stretches, or preventing foot and ankle injuries, we can help. Call or click online to schedule a visit at Optima Foot and Ankle in Bend, Oregon, today.

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