Foot injuries can quickly sideline an avid running habit, requiring a variety of in-home care options and potentially invasive treatment. Foot injuries typically result from a handful of common running habits including running in old shoes, increasing mileage and hill work drastically in a short amount of time, not properly stretching leg muscles, and general overuse.
Common running injuries of the feet
Running injuries may occur everywhere from your hip to your knees, shins, calves, and ankles, but sometimes it’s the injuries to the feet that seem the worst. Common running injuries of the feet include:
- Plantar Fasciitis: The connective band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes is called the plantar fascia. With each step you take, the plantar fascia stretches and supports your foot’s strength and flexibility. If you are over or under-pronating (common with high and flat arched feet), you might strain the plantar fascia resulting in painful inflammation and microscopic tears on the tissue itself.
- Achilles Tendinitis: How exactly can the tendon in the calf result in foot pain? Turns out the Achilles tendon actually runs down the calf all the way to where it connects with the heel of the foot. If the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed or torn with overuse or poor running technique, it can result in immobilizing heel pain.
- Metatarsalgia: The constant pounding and force applied to the forefoot where the metatarsals (bones of the toes) connect to the rest of the foot when running can take its toll. The natural cushioning on the ball of the foot can wear away over time resulting in sharp or burning pain, tingling and numbness in the toes, worse pain when you flex or use your feet, and even the feeling of having a pebble in your shoe.
- Hammer toe: Toes which curl under when running can result in a permanently bent joint (usually on the second, third, or fourth toe) which is referred to as hammer toe. Because of the deformity and the narrow toe box of some running shoes, hammer toes might form painful blisters, corns, calluses, or other skin irritation from constantly rubbing on footwear.
- Stress fractures: Most common in the metatarsals, stress fractures begin as microscopic cracks in the bones that overtime grow in size and severity eventually leading to a complete bone fissure or break. Typically a consequence of overuse or drastic changes in mileage or terrain shifts when running, stress fractures may feel like a dull, chronic pain for some time and then much more painful, tender, and inflamed.
Popular treatment ideas for foot injuries from running
Ice and heat therapy: Chances are you have used ice therapy for other inflammation-based ailments, and for good reason. Simply applying a cold pack to a swollen muscle or ligament can help soothe pain by reducing the conductivity of nerves and producing an analgesic effect as well as reducing inflammation. If a sore foot injury has successfully reduced in size over 72 hours, your doctor may recommend heat application to aid healing, boost blood flow, and relieve pain.
Bracing/wrapping: Like how you might wear a knee brace or groin wrap to compress and stabilize vulnerable joints and tendons, so can you brace and wrap the feet and ankle regions to aid an injury. Compression wraps help boost blood flow to aid healing of the injured tissues, while braces can stabilize body mechanics to reduce the internal stresses placed on injured joints, bones, and tendons.
Cross training: Picking up different low-impact activities to stay active but avoid running may be suggested by a physical therapist or sports medicine specialist. Sometimes suffering from plantar fasciitis will keep you off the running trail but swimming in the pool is still possible and pain-free. Know your options and talk to your healthcare provider about what other activities are feasible with your condition.
Stretching & strengthening: Stretching and strengthening the muscle groups involved with running can speed up healing as well as help prevent future injury. Stretching the calf and plantar fascia tissues, as well as strengthening the tendons in toes can help prevent Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and hammer toe. One neat exercise is to drop pencils or game di on the ground and practice picking them up and placing them in a bucket with your feet.
Orthotic inserts: Orthotic inserts may be suggested by your doctor to help keep you moving but alleviate pain associated with your foot strain. Toe crests and metatarsal pads can add cushioning and shock absorption for runners suffering from hammer toe or metatarsalgia, while arch supports can aid runners with arch and plantar fasciitis problems. Depending on the severity of your injury, your doctor may recommend a custom orthotic which is specially designed and sized for your specific foot. Typically, however, you can find helpful inserts online or over the counter at most pharmacies.
Massage: Everyone loves a good massage right? Foot massage can aid all types of painful soreness and achiness by helping stretch out vulnerable tissues, work out built up toxins and lactic acid, as well as reducing scar tissue buildup.
Cortisone shots: Definitely a more invasive procedure, for especially afflicting foot injuries that completely challenge your ability to get around, your medical doctor may administer cortisone shots. Cortisone shots are typically comprised of a corticosteroid medication and a local anesthetic and are targeted to painful joint areas to provide relief and reduce inflammation. Surgical intervention to aid broken bones and repair ruptured tissues is less common but may be discussed with a healthcare provider depending on the severity of your injury.
Rest: Quite possibly the most important, and the hardest for avid runners, rest is a must when it comes to seeking a quick and full recovery. The body has a miraculous way of producing new cells that build new tissues and strengthen existing ones, whether it is in a tendon, a joint, ligament, muscle, you name it. For more serious injuries like with acute Achilles tendinitis or advanced stress fractures, rest might by your primary treatment recommendation.
It might be well and good to understand what at-home treatment options for foot pain from running might be, but when should you be seeing a doctor for foot pain? A common rule of thumb is to never ignore severe pain and swelling. See a doctor immediately, even if it is just to rule out the worst.
As for other more dull aches and slight pains, as long as they are not accompanied by an oozing wound or a complete inability to bear weight or walk around, you may be ok waiting it out, logging your symptoms, and getting your own orthotic inserts or foot cushions to see if that helps before you head to the urgent care.