When I was an elite athlete and battling plantar fasciitis, I remember my strength coach saying that the majority of running injuries are foot and lower limb injuries. This seemed very plausible to me – your feet are the only parts of your body that hit the ground when running, and therefore they, along with your lower legs, bear a heavy load. The impact of each step, along with adjustments to compensate for any imbalances higher up in the body, mean your feet and lower limbs take a lot of strain while running.
Achilles tendon trouble, shin splints, stress fractures…along with the dreaded plantar fasciitis, foot and lower limb injuries come in lots of guises. So what can we runners do about this?
Thankfully, the answer is plenty! I have had my fair share of these kinds of injuries over the years, so I’ve built up a large ‘toolbox’ of preventative measures and ways to manage them. I wrote about injury prevention more generally a few weeks back, and in addition to those tips, here are my top pieces of advice for keeping your feet healthy.
1. Keep your feet strong and well-conditioned
Regular exercise routines for your feet, for example 10 minutes three times per week, will keep them in good working order. Ideally do exercises in bare feet or socks, and really try and work all the small muscles in your feet. Examples include scrunching a towel or picking up small objects with your toes, walking on tip-toes, on heels, and sideways, working you feet side to side using resistance bands, standing on one leg with your eyes closed, calf raises, walking with straight legs, etc.
2. Foot care
Simple ways of looking after your feet will help to stop problems from developing. For example, warming them up before training if you have cold feet, keeping toenails cut short, rolling over a golf ball to massage and stretch your arches, wearing compression socks for recovery, using a night-splint to stretch everything out overnight.
3. Causes could be elsewhere
Foot and lower limb injuries could well be caused elsewhere, for example by dysfunctional glutes. It’s tempting to treat the site of an injury but bring an open mind to what could be causing it, particularly if the injury is persistent or comes back repeatedly.
4. Well-fitting footwear
Running shoes are perhaps the most important piece of kit you’ll buy, so take time to find a pair that suit you. Be vigilant when you change your shoes, especially if you switch to a model that is quite different to what you are used to. But everyday shoes can cause injuries too, for example very flat summer sandals can contribute to plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.
Our feet work hard and serve us well for our lifetimes. But we often neglect them and don’t give them the love and care they deserve. A little investment of time and energy to keep them in good form, and keep you running, is well worth it.
Mara Yamauchi for World Athletics