Most Common Exercise Injuries To Your Feet - And How To Prevent Them
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As a runner, you’re probably well aware that feet take the brunt of every step and are prone to injury. You undoubtedly also know it’s not just runners that suffer from foot injuries. Just about any exercise can lead to injury as your feet support your body weight.
While it’s impossible to avoid all injuries, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the chance of them, and enjoy stronger, more stable workouts or running sessions. The most important of those precautions is to make sure you execute the natural technique correctly. If the technique is incorrect, such as the foot rolling inward too much (overpronation) or not enough (excessive supination) it could lead to injury.
In this article, we take a closer look at five of the most common exercise-related foot injuries and what actions you can take to prevent them. Before we get to that, however, let’s glance at the natural running technique.
Tips For Running Naturally
The following tips can help you execute the natural running technique properly:
Keep your posture upright while leaning forward slightly.
- Run with a high cadence, regardless of your pace and use your arms as an impulse generator.
- Strike the ground at the midfoot and let your heel settle naturally, rather than striking the ground at the toes or the heel.
- Strike the ground below your hips rather than in front of them—this technique decreases breaking.
- Pick up your leg when starting a new stride—don’t be tempted to push off the ground.
- Keep your arm swing fluid and compact—keep your hands near your chest and your elbows at acute angles.
- Look forward and keep your head steady.
Now that we’ve had a reminder of natural running technique, let’s explore five common exercise-related foot injuries and various ways to prevent them.
1. Achilles’ Tendonitis
Achilles’ tendonitis develops when you overuse or strain the Achilles’ tendon, which is the tissue band that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. According to the Mayo Clinic, the injury commonly develops in runners who suddenly increase the duration or the intensity of their runs.
Achilles’ tendonitis is commonly seen in middle-aged people who play sports that involve running and jumping, such as basketball or tennis. Mild cases are usually treated with bed rest, pain medication, exercises, and orthotics, such as shoe inserts.
Stretching and strengthening exercises, gradually increasing exercise duration and intensity, and cross-training are some methods of preventing Achilles’ tendonitis.
2. Pinched Nerves
Incorrect running technique as well as swollen ligaments and weak muscles can cause nerves to become pinched or trapped. Foot muscles are like the air in a car tire, it's far better (and safer) to drive with air than without. As many runners have found out, pinched nerves can be agonizing. Tarsal tunnel syndrome can develop if the nerve between the ankle and the ligament on the inside of the ankle is pinched, resulting in a burning sensation when you run.
Morton’s Neuroma is the pinching or compression of the nerve between two toes (usually the third and fourth toes). Treatment for pinched nerves in the feet depends on the nature and location of the injury. Sometimes, you’ll need to rest and possibly consider getting new shoes, re-lacing your shoes, or using shoe supports. In others, you may require cortisone injections to reduce inflammation.
Braces, massage, stretching, and hot and cold packs are some methods you can use to prevent pinched nerves from happening. The best prevention, of course, is proper running technique.
3. Stress Fractures
Stress fractures can develop if you do not give the bones in your feet enough time to recover between runs. The repetitive impact of running can cause microscopic damage to bone. If allowed to worsen, that can lead to severe bruising and small cracks. This happens because the muscles in the feet become fatigued, which makes them less able to act as shock absorbers.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons said that the most common places in which stress fractures occur are the second and third metatarsals (the long bones in the foot), the midfoot, the heel, and the ankle. Common symptoms include pain that worsens while running, sharp pain in a bony area that may be sensitive to touch, swelling on the ankle or the top of the foot, and pain when resting. RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is the most common method of treating stress fractures.
Preventative measures include a healthy diet, cross training, strength training, and the correct footwear.
4. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis develops when the thick ligament that runs from the toes to the heel on the underside of the foot becomes inflamed. Besides being a common injury among runners and athletes whose training includes a lot of jumping and running, it’s also common in people with flat feet or high arches. Overweight people, dancers, and people who wear thin-soled flat shoes or high heels are often sufferers too.
Plantar fasciitis symptoms usually include tight calves and pain in the heels in the morning. The condition is usually treated with rest, physical therapy, and ice packs.
Along with using the correct running technique, you can prevent the injury by stretching your hamstrings, calves, feet, and Achilles’ tendons, and by wearing the correct footwear. You can also use custom orthotics and night splints if the condition is more severe.
5. Heel Spurs
Repetitive straining of the foot muscles and ligaments and repeatedly tearing the membrane that covers the heel bone can lead to the formation of heel spurs. They can be associated with plantar fasciitis too. A heel spur forms when calcium deposits accumulate underneath the heel bone, and it may not always be painful. Spurs can also form if you regularly wear footwear that is too small. This results in instinctively pulling back your toes to avoid the pain of them pushing up against the shoe. The permanent tension on your tendons stimulates the bone, and this adapts in the form of a spur.
Treatment may include cortisone injections, anti-inflammatory medication, custom orthotics, and exercise. In extreme cases, surgery is required.
Besides the correct natural running technique, preventative measures include proper stretching and warm-ups before running or exercising, pacing yourself, and wearing supportive footwear.
All the common exercise-related foot injuries mentioned above are largely preventable. The first thing to do is to focus on perfecting your running technique. This is the best defense against any of these injuries, and others too.
The second-best defense is gradually increasing the frequency, duration, and intensity of exercising. Never increase your weekly running distances by more than ten percent and ensure you get adequate rest too. Thirdly, wearing the right shoes and knowing how to treat any common ailments as soon as they appear. In doing this, you’ll avoid damaging your feet and putting a temporary or long-term halt to your training program.