When it comes to working out, we often overlook the fact that our feet support everything we do. Instead, we focus on our arms, legs, and back and tend to tailor our workouts to avoid injuries in these areas instead. But by ignoring your feet and the role they play in supporting your body, you're doing yourself a major disservice.
Whether you're jumping, running, or lifting weights, your feet are at risk. And while you cannot avoid some injuries, there are some that you can prevent with a little know-how. By understanding the most common foot injuries and how to avoid them, you can enjoy stronger workouts more regularly.
Common Foot Injuries
Arguably one of the most common foot injuries, this type of tendonitis affects the Achilles tendon, the largest in the body. The injury arises due to overuse and age-related wear and tear and can be incredibly painful.
Too much stress on your foot's arch can result in injuring the plantar fascia. This ligament absorbs the stress and strain of movement and supports the arch of your foot. Heel pain is a common indicator of plantar fasciitis, as is the feeling of a stabbing pain after periods of rest.
High-intensity exercise and impact on your feet can cause stress fractures. These hairline fractures can be caused by poor conditioning, poor form, and a lack of proper equipment. Small cracks in the bones develop and can lead to a full break if not treated properly.
Twisted or sprained ankles occur when the foot is suddenly forced into a different direction. The ankle usually twists inwards, damaging the outer ligaments.
Pinched nerves (neuroma) can affect the feet, although the reasons for this aren't always clear. Leading causes have been identified as too much pressure, arch issues, injuries, and bone spurs, but ill-fitting shoes and even underlying causes like diabetes can be contributors.
Calcium deposits that collect in the heel cause heel spurs, which are identifiable as bony protrusions. Repeat impact can result in this extremely painful condition.
Exercises To Reduce The Risk Of Foot Injuries
Not all foot injuries are avoidable. However, many can be mitigated by doing strengthening and stretching exercises, either as a warmup or cooldown:
Calf stretches:To relieve heel and foot pain, stand facing a wall with your feet flat on the ground. Lift your back leg towards your buttocks, bending it while doing so. Lean towards the wall until you feel your calf stretching. Hold for a few seconds and then switch legs. More about calf streches.
Toe spread: This exercise improves balance and range of motion, providing a more stable foothold. While sitting, take a thick rubber band and place it around your toes. Spread your toes apart, hold for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat on the other foot.
Calf raises: This strengthens the tendons in the heel and the muscles in your calf. Stand on a step with the balls of your feet positioned on the edge with heels hanging off. Slowly lower your heels to the ground, hold for a few seconds, and release. If your balance is off, you can lower the one leg to stabilize yourself.
Arch stretches:To improve flexibility and reduce the pain in your foot's arch, sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you. Reach for your toes and slowly pull them towards you. Hold for a few seconds and then release.
Toe lifts: Place an object on the floor (we would suggest a marble or golf ball). Pick it up using your toes, hold for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat on the other side. To increase the level of difficulty, you can try picking up the marble using each toe.
Toe spelling:While lying down, lift your leg and begin to write out the alphabet in the air using your toes. Repeat on the other side.
Toe and heel walk:Walk on your toes for about a minute and then repeat by walking on your heels.
Foot tapping:Keeping your heels firmly on the ground, tap your feet on the floor 20 times or until you can't do it anymore. You can do this for longer if you can.
These exercises build strength and flexibility.The stronger and more flexible your feet are, the less likely you are to suffer from common ailments.
When To See Your Doctor
As in most cases, when you injure yourself, the question of whether you should see a doctor will arise. If the pain is mild or the injury is caused by overuse, it should go away on its own in a few weeks – but you need to rest during this time.
If you suffer from pre-existing medical conditions, have severe pain, or have pain affecting both feet, we recommend seeking medical advice.
Additional signs that you should see your doctor include:
- Feeling pain regularly, even though the injury happened weeks ago.
- Experiencing swelling that's not subsiding within a day or two.
- Burning pain, tingling, or numbness experienced in the injured area – this can indicate nerve damage.
Failure to seek medical attention can result in infections, poor balance, and additional strain on the other muscles in your body. It can also result in permanent damage that requires more than a cold compress and rest to fix.
In many cases, a foot injury will heal itself if given time to rest and recover. It's important to take note of the exercise or incident that led to the injury to prevent it from happening again. Repeat injuries can result in long term issues if not properly addressed.
One of the simplest ways to keep your feet safe from harm is to wear the correct shoes for your foot type. Proper arch support, adequate cushioning, and soles that are not too worn all play an important role in protecting your feet when working out. If your shoes are in poor condition or don't fit properly, they could do more harm than good.
Our final words of wisdom? Don't underestimate the impact that your workout has on your feet. If you start to experience pain or discomfort during exercise, take a break and see if you can figure out what's causing it. Prevention is better than cure.
- Buying guide: What to Look when purchasing Running Shoes
- Injury treatment in sports
- Tendonitis and the Effects on Your Routine — a personal story about overcoming a tendonitis injury.
- Groin Strains — treatment for this common sporting injury.