The feet are one of the most essential parts of the body for all athletes. They keep people balanced, allow for increased flexibility, and are the first and often only part of the body that should touch the ground during sports and physical activities.
For runners, the feet perform all of these tasks and many others. Runners spend their entire exercise regimens and many hours on their feet. All of this use can hurt or damage them, which is why foot care is so necessary.
But how can one take care of their feet without sacrificing precious running time?
Why is Foot Care Important?
Podiatrists recognize that a runner’s feet are the most valuable asset but also the most vulnerable part of the body..
Your feet should be the only part that makes contact with the ground, needs to support your entire weight, and will be the victim of repeated force.
The 2012 National Foot Health Assessment demonstrated that almost 60% of runners suffer from some form of chronic foot pain and aches, including blisters and arch tenderness. Over 35% also experienced moderate to severe pain and suffered setbacks when trying to run longer races like marathons.
Consistent, reliable foot care can help reduce your chances of suffering from this pain and other common problems, including blisters, Athlete’s foot, and runner’s toes.
You also want to be sure to wear socks and shoes that fit, as excessive rubbing or tightness can cause irritation and further exacerbate problems.
Dr. John Fritz, a podiatrist, outlines some of the most common culprits of foot issues in this video:
As mentioned above, he notes that problems that happen on the foot often times come from wearing improperly sized equipment.
After discussing common health issues that occur, the article will then talk about how you can find a sock and shoe that fit properly.
A blister is a fluid-filled bubble that can frequently are found near the toes, heal, and forefoot.
Blisters are common for runners who frequently exercise with wet feet, in harsh conditions, or in ill-fitting socks and shoes. Unfortunately, the best cure for blisters is to let them ride out the course
Blisters can be difficult to treat, especially when the affected person is active. One of the best ways to avoid blisters is to wear comfortable socks that fit well and don’t have a bunch of excessive fabric that can rub along the skin.
It’s also important to invest in a pair that has a little extra protection and won’t absorb moisture like a sponge. We break down the best socks for preventing blisters here and heel blister prevention tips here.
#2. Athlete's Foot
The most common cause is excessive sweating that allows the fungus to grow. One of the main symptoms is a scaly, itchy rash that can spread to the rest of the foot.
Athlete’s Foot makes running unpleasant and leaves people feeling gross. It can spread to others from floors, towels, and clothing, so the affected individual might not be able to use public changing rooms or showers.
The fungus can also transfer to a person’s hands, nails, and groin – where it becomes jock itch.
Athlete’s Foot can be treated with over the counter antifungal medicine. However, it’s important to practice proper foot care to avoid becoming the fungus monster from the black lagoon.
First and foremost: Wash your socks and shoes.
Sweat and humid, hot conditions are this fungus’s bread and butter.
Always wear a clean pair of socks when running and let your shoes dry for at least a day after intensive workouts. If you want or need to run every day, then most professionals recommend that you purchase more than one pair of shoes so you can swap the affected ones out every other day.
#3. Runner's Toes
Runner’s toes is also called Runner’s toenails. These are when a blood vessel breaks underneath a toenail or when there is a cut or bleeding in the same location.
The excessive blood causes the toenail to take on a blackened appearance that can be alarming when first seen.
Runner’s toenail is most common in athletes after they have run a tough race. The bleeding can be caused by smashing into the front of the shoe, the crushing of the toes, or shoes that are too tight.
There are a couple of ways to treat this condition. First and foremost, you need shoes and socks that fit. Similar to other ailments covered in this article, runner’s toes can be treated by choosing better footwear that actually fits the shape and size of your feet.
Another method is to regularly trim your toenails. You need to keep them short and square – not curved – so the tip of the nail doesn’t grind against the shoe and cause more pressure under the nail.
You also need to make sure your favorite shoes have enough space for your toes when they swell from use.
If you do have runner’s toes or toenail, DO NOT pop the blood blister. This process involves using a hot needle to drill through the nail and let the blood drain, which causes more harm than good. This method frequently leaves to infection and extended periods of time where you will not be able to run.
If you have excessive pain from the blood blisters, you can see a doctor for professional assistance. The exposed area will also need an antibiotic ointment to aid in recovery.
Foot Care Tips for Runners - General Healthy Guidelines
Some of these points were covered in previous sections but are still valid. Always have footwear that fits and be sure to keep them dry.
This means either having multiple pairs or letting your shoes dry for a few days before going back for an intensive workout.
Other tips weren’t covered earlier and involve some special products.
Most athletic stores sell shoe disinfectant that can be sprayed inside, similar to the stuff used in bowling alleys. It’s also possible to use regular antiperspirant on your feet, since the point is to stop sweat.
If you choose to use something for your feet, make sure it is not irritating for your skin. Some antiperspirants might cause itching or a rash, and lotions might rub off quickly.
Always take your moisturized or treated feet out for a test run before committing to a longer race or marathon with a new product.
Moisturizing is important because it stops dry skin from developing. Dried skin can quickly become irritated skin, which can make it painful to run.
Finally, dedicated runners should consider strengthening your toes. The act of running uses several leg muscles but can leave those in the foot weak and untested.
To avoid problems like plantar fasciitis, you can do toe scrunches, seated toe taps, and stretch steps. The Sport Injury Clinic additionally recommends lifting a pencil with just your toes or walking on your heels.
How to Find Footwear that Fits
It can be hard to find a comfortable shoe without visiting a podiatrist or specialty shoe store. If you’re set on saving money or just want to purchase something off of Amazon or a manufacturer, here are a few tips.
Measure Your Forefoot & Toe Box
The forefoot is the front end of your foot and includes your toes and what people refer to as the ball of your feet.
You want to determine if this area is narrow or wide. A wider forefoot means you need to invest in a broader shoe that can accommodate your bones and prevent excessive rubbing or grinding.
If you have long toes, then you need to find a shoe with more toe room. Some people have a longer second toe than big toe – this is a prime area for blisters. Make sure your toes don’t quite touch the front end of the shoe so there won’t be friction.
If you do a lot of downhill or trail running, you will also need a shoe with a tighter fit so it doesn’t move around while you exercise.
Try on all shoes before you buy one. The fit should be snug but not so tight that you don’t have room for swelling.
If you have cramping in your feet after you run I recommend theses toe spacers. These help ease the pain and help prevent blisters from forming on your toes.
Know Your Arch
Some people have high arches while others have low to no arc in their feet. The arch can help determine where the majority of pressure will be on your feet and where you might be susceptible to problems.
The easiest way to determine what kind of arch you have is to wet your foot and then step on a towel. Depending on how much area is left dry, you can tell what kind of feet you have.
People with high arches will require more support to prevent injuries, while people with no arch will need some help in evening pressure. Some shoes come with extra features while others do not.
Always try on a pair before making a purchase so you know they are comfortable and suited to you.
Know the Shoe's Weight
This seems like it would be common knowledge, but many people wind up buying shoes that are too heavy for them.
A heavy shoe can create tension along the toes and ankle, making them more prone to injury.
The average man’s shoe should weight 10 ounces, while a women’s should be no more than 8. The majority of shoes designed for runners meet these requirements, but sometimes manufacturers add way too much padding.
If you find a pair of shoes that seem to weigh you down with all of its support and accoutrements, it’s not the pair for you.
You want something light that will feel like an extension of your foot, not a burden. Lighter shoes also tend to cause less friction, so you are not as likely to get blisters or other nasty injuries.
Practicing good foot health and hygiene is a crucial part of being a runner. If you don’t create a solid base for yourself, you won’t be able to improve and could suffer devastating setbacks.
Athletes claim that blisters, fungus, irritation, and even bleeding is par for the course, but it isn’t. Just adding a few short steps to your daily regimen can help keep you happy, healthy, and running for far longer for fewer interruptions to your training schedule.
In short, you should:
- Wash your shoes and feet regularly
- Keep your toenails clean and trimmed
- Use baby powder to decrease friction
- Use lotion to stop your feet from drying out
- Use antiperspirant to decrease foot sweat
- Wear socks and shoes that actually fit
These steps are all you need to practice good foot care and keep yourself prepared for difficult runs, such as Spartan races, the Tough Mudder, or an upcoming marathon.