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Taking Care of your Feet While Running in the Cold

Keep your feet healthy during winter running with these suggestions.

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In the new year, many people zealously renew their desire to get back into shape, or increase their physical fitness in general, all during the coldest months of the year. Many people decide to begin running programs. While this is an overall great idea and should be encouraged, you need to take extra care of your feet as you start a new running routine, especially while running in the cold. Here are a few simple tips to help prevent injury and keep your feet happy and healthy.

Ease Into It: If you haven’t run or trained in a while, gradually increase your intensity and mileage. Going full throttle right away could increase a risk for injuries such as stress fractures, tendonitis and fasciitis. If you’re brand new to running, start by walking. Gradually move to jogging, and finally to running. If you have run consistently in the past but have been out of the game for a while, don’t pick up where you left off. Again, gradually increase mileage and speed to get your body back into the swing of things. You should also be wary of abruptly changing running surfaces. I see many injuries when people switch from outdoor running to treadmill running (and vice versa). You should gradually introduce the treadmill before the weather gets too cold, so you body can get used to the different running surface.

Choose the Right Shoes: Use running sneakers with least amount of mesh on the uppers, and with weather resistant materials. This will help to keep your foot warm and prevent winter slush from seeping in. Make sure you change your sneakers frequently as well. Typivally you should change sneakers after 300 miles; look for wear on the soles. If you are changing the type of shoes you wear (especially if you are trying out a minimalist shoe), adapt slowly and carefully over time. Also, your shoe should be dedicated to your activity. Don’t walk or play basketball in your running shoes as gait pattern is dramatically different. Keep your shoes activity specific. Combine the right sneakers with warm, moisture wicking socks. Wool socks, or socks with bio-electric materials (like therma-care socks) seem to work the best. You can also use silk liners for your feet and legs.

Warm Up Indoors: Before you enter the polar vortex, get your blood circulating indoors with some light warm ups. Don’t over-do it and work up a sweat, but by getting the blood pumping while inside, it will make your run much more palatable and less taxing outside.

Dress for Success: This is no different than how mom used to dress you when you built snowmen as a child. Layering keeps warm air trapped, which helps fend off the cold. Use moisture wicking materials to keep perspiration at a minimum. As you work up a sweat running, you can remove layers if need be. In general, you should dress as if its 15-20 degrees warmer than it actually is outside to help avoid excessive perspiration.

Train Strong: Add strength and flexibility training to your exercise regimen, rather than just relying on running. The importance of stretching should be obvious, but needs to constantly be underscored. Strength training is becoming a more and more integral part of sports training in general. Studies have shown that strength and conditioning does help to prevent injury.

Work with the wind: If possible, run into the wind in the beginning portion of your run before you really begin to perspire. Let the wind help you without turning sweat droplets into icicles on your way back. 

Protect what you can’t cover:Hat? Check. Gloves? Check. Proper clothing materials and layers? Check. Proper socks and sneakers? Check. However, many times our poor faces are exposed to the cold with little protection. Keep the uncovered part of your face protected by using a lubricant like body glide or Vaseline to prevent wind burn.

Be Smart: If it’s just too cold, or the weather too nasty, run indoors! Utilize the treadmill or a use an indoor track if it available.

Don’t Forget Foot Pain is NOT Normal!: This may be the most important tip of all.   Many people are under the impression that foot pain is an acceptable part of life. This simply isn’t true. While feet may get sore or tired with excessive activity, this type of pain should resolve very quickly. Any pain that is persistent or severe in nature should be evaluated by a specialist. As a podiatrist, we are able to identify and diagnose injury of course, but we are also equipped to identify structural issues which may lead to weaknesses down the line. Many people suffer from foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain which can be corrected relatively simply. If your feet are hurting, or have chronic lower extremity problems, get yourself checked out. Many times, custom foot orthotics can help correct painful structural deformities. At our offices, we also can perform a detailed gait analysis to help identify more subtle issues which we can then help correct.

As you increase your activity, increase your awareness of your feet and body in general. These simple tips may help prevent injury, but if there are any signs or symptoms of problems in your feet, get yourself treatment quickly to help prevent further damage. Keep your feet and body healthy and happy all year!

Dr. Josef Geldwert, DPM is the medical director at the Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine and biomechanics advisor to SOLS 3D printed custom orthotics. His podiatric surgical practice specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders and diseases of the foot and ankle for children, adults and seniors. He is Board Certified in Foot and Ankle Surgery, a Fellow in the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Orthopedics at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Geldwert has served as the Podiatrist for the Women’s Soccer World Cup, the New York Women’s Professional Soccer team, the NY Liberty (WNBA), the US Olympic Marathon trials and is the former CO-Chief for Lower Extremity Injuries for the NYC Marathon.