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Foot health makes a huge impact on how well—and how long—you can run. Though we all make some common mistakes, experts say that runners can do a few simple things to keep a pair of happy feet.
“We take between 1,000 and 1,500 steps per mile, and we land with two-and-a-half times our body weight on every one of those steps,” says Paul R. Langer, podiatrist at Twin Cities Orthopedics and a fellow of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. “Healthy feet help us absorb the landing impact, sense and adapt to the surface we land on, and then propel us into the next step.”
If your feet aren’t up to the task, you’ll not only compromise your running performance, but you’ll overload your other joints and structures—namely, your knees, hips and spine.
Two experts identify the most common ways we sabotage foot health and how to fix them.
You never stretch your feet.
Maintaining mobile, flexible feet can go a long way toward staving off long-term issues caused by tight Achilles tendons, says Timothy Miller, orthopedic surgeon at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Common issues for runners include ruptures, tendinitis and a common type of heel pain known as plantar fasciitis. All it takes to ward off tightness is a bit of stretching after you’ve warmed up and cooled down. Try this: Place your palms flat on a wall about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your knees straight and your hips forward, step one foot back. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.
You order shoes online.
Sure, buying running shoes online is quicker and easier than trekking down to your local running store. But unless you’re buying the exact same model and size of a shoe that you already own and love, Langer does not recommend buying running shoes online. Why? Ordering shoes doesn’t give you the opportunity to assess their comfort, and comfort is key for running performance and injury prevention, Langer says. Do yourself (and your feet) a favor: Make that trip to the running store.
You wear shoes that are too small.
According to Miller, some women buy running shoes that are too small in the hopes of making their feet appear smaller. However, wearing too-small running shoes puts a lot of strain on your forefoot and can lead to bunions, or even a painful deformity known as claw toe. “If your feet don’t fit inside your shoe, your toes are going to have to curl under a little bit,” Miller says. When buying running shoes, make sure your feet have enough room to move—especially once things heat up and your feet swell a bit. Aim to have at least a thumb’s width between the tip of the shoe and the tip of your longest toe.
You ignore foot pain.
Runners often ignore nagging aches and pains just so we don’t have to take a break from running. But if you ignore the pain for too long, you could get sidelined with a stress fracture. The most common place these stress fractures happen are in the feet, often in the metatarsals, or the long bones in the middle of your feet, Miller says. So if you have pain in one or both feet that doesn’t improve after three days, take a break. And if the pain doesn’t improve after two weeks of rest, get it checked out by a sports medicine doc, Miller says.