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Despite being relatively small, the foot is one of the most complex structures in the human body. Each foot contains an intricate arrangement of 33 joints, 26 bones, and over a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments that must work together to absorb impact stresses, support your body weight, and propel your body forward when you run.
Therefore, injury to any of these structures can cause difficulty running and foot pain while running.
Given the sheer number of structures in the foot, it’s not surprising that there are quite a number of possible foot injuries in runners. From plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia to metatarsal stress fractures to bunions, foot injuries and foot pain from running can be all too common and quite debilitating in terms of your training.
So, what are the best ways to prevent common foot injuries in runners? How can you fix foot pain from running before it becomes a full-blown injury?
In this article, we will discuss how to prevent foot pain from running to keep your feet happy mile after miles.
Why Does My Foot Hurt After Running?
Running-related injuries are unfortunately quite common, and the foot is one of the susceptible areas of injury in runners.
According to research that evaluated the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries in runners, somewhere between 5.7% to 39.3% of runners experience a foot injury over the course of the year while training.
Additionally, although many common running injuries like shin splints and runner’s knee are often most likely to befall beginner runners, studies show that foot injuries in runners are actually more common in higher-mileage, experienced runners.
It’s not surprising that foot injuries from running are common. The feet are the first structures that contact the ground when you run, do they take the brunt of the impact forces. Research suggests that the feet absorb forces that are approximately equivalent to 2-3 times your bodyweight when you run, and runners take approximately 1,400 steps per mile when running at an 8-minute per mile pace.
Common Foot Injuries In Runners
There are numerous potential foot injuries in runners, but the following are some of the most common causes of foot pain while running:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Morton’s neuroma
- Extensor tendonitis
- Metatarsal stress fractures
- Tibialis posterior tendonitis/tendinopathy
- Peroneal tendinitis/tendinopathy
- Hallux rigidus
- Vamp disease
- Sinus tarsi syndrome
What Causes Foot Pain After Running?
Most causes of foot injuries or foot pain from running are multifactorial, so preventing foot pain typically involves being mindful of training risk factors as well as actively doing things to strengthen the feet and keep them healthy.
For example, risk factors for plantar fasciitis include increasing training volume too quickly, overtraining in general, flat feet, obesity, and wearing unsupportive and worn out running shoes, while risk factors for tibialis posterior tendonitis include overpronation, excessive downhill running, wearing worn out shoes, and weakness in the lower leg muscles.
In general, the best way to prevent foot injuries from running is to assess and then address the common risk factors for foot pain after running. These risk factors include:
- Increasing training volume or intensity suddenly
- Overtraining or having insufficient rest and recovery
- Overstriding or heel striking
- Overpronating or supinating
- Having very low arches or rigid high arches
- Suddenly changing the surface you run on
- Excessive downhill running
- Not warming up prior to a workout
- Weakness in the calves, glutes, hips, or shins
- Tightness in the calf muscles or shins
- Wearing worn out or unsupportive running shoes
- Wearing tight shoes
- Lacing your shoes too tightly
- Osteoporosis and/or inadequate caloric and nutrient intake
How to Prevent Foot Injuries In Runners
Given the risk factors for foot injuries, here are some ways to prevent foot injuries from running:
Wear the Right Shoes
Although your footwear won’t necessarily cause a foot injury, wearing the “wrong” running shoes can certainly contribute to it.
What exactly constitutes the wrong shoes?
There are different types of running shoes—mainly neutral shoes, stability shoes, and motion control shoes—each of which is designed to provide a different amount of pronation control (how much your foot rolls inward when you land).
Every runner has a unique foot and gait pattern, so the best type of running shoes for your biomechanics may differ from another runner.
Going to your local running store and running on the treadmill for a gait analysis is usually the best way to determine what kind of running shoes are best for your feet.
Wearing the right footwear will help ensure that your foot is positioned well to absorb the load and transfer the stresses up the rest of your leg.
Replace Your Running Shoes
In addition to getting the right type of running shoes for your feet, it’s also important to wear shoes that are not broken down and worn out.
Although we can get somewhat attached to our favorite pair of running shoes, it’s important to replace your running shoes before they are no longer supportive.
Most running shoe manufacturers recommend getting new shoes every 300-500 miles. The longevity of your running shoes—whether they fall closer to the 300- or 500-mile end of the spectrum—depends on numerous factors, such as the quality of the shoe, your biomechanics, your body size, the terrain you run on, and whether you rotate your shoes.
When running shoes are worn out, they lack the necessary support to hold the foot in its ideal position and the cushioning is no longer adequate to absorb and transfer forces from impact to push off while running.
Consider Getting Orthotics
If you have very low arches of flat feet, your foot tends to probate excessively and you don’t get to take advantage of the natural shock attenuation of the arch as it decompresses. This is because the arch is already flattened; therefore, more stress is transmitted to the foot.
Between the overpronation and low arch combination, the risk of injuries like tibialis posterior tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis increase.
A high arch and rigid foot can contribute extensor tendonitis and peroneal issues.
If you have foot structural issues, consider seeing a podiatrist for custom orthotics. You can also try over-the-counter insoles for running.
Strengthen Your Feet
You can strengthen the muscles in your feet by performing foot exercises like picking up marbles with your toes, grabbing and squeezing a towel between your toes, and flexing and extending your toes.
In addition to these types of “toe yoga” exercises, walking barefoot around the house can also strengthen the feet.
Stay Away From Tight Shoes
Wearing tight shoes, whether running shoes or day shoes, can compress the balls of your feet and lead to foot injuries like metatarsalgia, bunions, or a Morton’s neuroma.
Make sure that there is ample room in the toe box to wiggle your toes.
Re-Tie Your Laces
Lacing your shoes too tightly can cause vamp disease, sinus tarsi syndrome, and metatarsalgia.
Experiment with different lacing patterns to alleviate pressure on problem areas.
Use RICE At the First Sign of Pain
Runners often ignore little jiggles, hoping they magically disappear, but addressing foot pain after running right away can help prevent foot injuries from escalating.
A good first line of treatment for musculoskeletal injuries is the classic, RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
RICE can help combat inflammation.
Stretch Your Calves
Tight calves can contribute to numerous foot injuries in runners, so make sure you spend time every day stretching your calves or using a foam roller or massage gun to do some myofascial release.
Be Mindful of Your Training
Most foot injuries in runners have at least one element of training that contributed to the issue.
Overtraining, ramping up your mileage or speedwork too quickly, switching terrain suddenly, running on cambered roads or excessive downhills are all examples of possible training errors that can contribute to developing a foot injury.
Be mindful to change anything gradually—whether into a new type of shoes, to sand or grass instead of road, or to track workouts instead of only distance runs.
Heed the 10% rule in terms of increases in mileage from week to week.
Work With a Physical Therapist
If you notice issues with your stride, or detect muscle imbalances or weaknesses, work with a physical therapist to address the issues before they escalate.
As the adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so be sure to take an inventory of what might be causing foot pain after running to prevent a foot injury from occurring.