Common Foot Problems in Runners
Chances are, that as you are reading this article, you are one of the millions of runners and joggers who take the streets every day.
Whether you do it for fun, for relieving stress or just for the health benefits, running is very good for you - there is no doubt about that.
However, like any sporting activity, running can lead to foot problems and injuries.
Luckily, these are all treatable and even preventable too.
Over 1 million runners will get heel pain each year, making it one of the more popular injuries.
The problem with heel pain is that it is usually an underlying issue that could be plantar fasciitis, where the plantar fascia tissue that stretches from the heel to the ball of your foot becomes damaged and inflamed.
The pain usually occurs around the heel area and often is felt first thing in the morning or after you have been resting for some time.
Running with plantar fasciitis is possible, and you will most likely feel the pain at the beginning of the run, but as you train the plantar tissue will become stretched, and the pain will lessen.
However, after you have run and had a rest, it will come back with a vengeance.
Plantar fasciitis and tendonitis.
Achilles tendonitis is a pain that starts at the back of your heel and up into your calf muscle.
When you are running, the pain can be very sharp and stabbing, but you will also feel the problem when you are resting, which is most likely to be a dull aching pain.
Also, like plantar fasciitis, the pain will be the worse first thing in the morning when you step out of bed, or after resting for long periods.
If you plan to run with this injury, you will have to put up with pain in your heel to begin with, which may reduce during the run. You will also find that running uphill or taking stairs is especially painful when you have Achilles tendonitis.
A heel spur is quite a generic term that people use for painful heels and feet, but it is a specific problem.
A small calcaneus lump of bone can form at the back of the heel, usually in patients that suffer from Plantar Fasciitis or similar problems.
The lump can be very painful to walk with, and your doctor will be able to identify that it exists by using X-ray.
Other causes of heel spurs include sports, a tendency to be overweight or that you are just spending too much time standing up. It is also an affliction that seems to affect women more than men.
The best treatment for heel spurs is to use orthotics and to rest and ice the affected area.
In the worst case scenario, surgery may be needed, but this is only used as a last resort.
These painful fractures usually happen to the metatarsal bones, which are the long bones that form the middle of your foot.
A stress fracture refers to the fact that there is a break in the bone, but it is not complete. The bone is broken but not all of the way through.
If you get a stress fracture from running, you may feel the pain suddenly in the middle of a session, rather than afterwards. Also, this injury is not from kicking or damaging your foot from any sort of impact, it is typically related to overuse.
The most common symptom of a stress fracture will be a sudden sharp pain across the top of your foot. You may see bruising or swelling in the same area too.
If you get any of these symptoms, you will need to see a podiatrist and most likely have to wear some sort of rigid shoe or cast for a few weeks to allow the bone to heal properly.
You will also have to stop running and exercising until the pain has gone.
If you have young children who play with LEGO, you probably know that stepping on a small hard object with your heel can end up causing you excruciating pain.
Even though the heels of our feet are quite sturdy, smaller objects can cause bruises to the pads which can make walking very painful afterwards.
If you think of the weight pressing down through your heel, the possibility of injury is actually quite high.
The best relief for these sorts of injuries is rest, anti-inflammatory medicines such as Ibuprofen and a slight alteration to walk on the balls of your feet for a while until the pain goes away.
If you are a trail runner, you may be more susceptible to this injury that someone who runs on a track or road. This is because you are using different muscles and tendons when you are running on uneven ground, making it more likely to get an injury.
The most common form of ankle sprain is known as an inversion ankle sprain. This where the ligaments on the outside of your ankle become torn.
This is usually caused by your foot rotating or turning inwards, while your ankle moves in the opposite direction.
When this happens, any of the 3 ligaments that surround and hold the ankle joint in place can become torn.
The less severe sprains are due to a partial tear of one of the ligaments, but they can be torn completely - several at a time.
Treating a sprained ankle.
If you are lucky and only get a mild sprain, the treatment for this will be rest, ice and support for a few weeks to allow it to heal.
If the sprain is more severe, you would need to wear a brace on the ankle or a cast to hold it in position.
If you are finding it hard to walk on the ankle or there is any amount of swelling or bruising, then you need to see a doctor straight away.
You may find that you need an x-ray to make sure there is no additional damage like a broken bone. The doctors will also need to measure the stability of the joint before they decide if a cast is required.
If the sprain is severe, your recovery time will be at least 2-3 months. Long-term recovery could possibly stretch out to a year or more.
If you suspect any sort of sprain, go to your doctor straight away and get it checked over. There is no point in taking any chances with these injuries as they can be very painful for a long time.
If you decide not to see a doctor and the pain is still there after 5-6 weeks, definitely seek medical attention from a doctor or podiatrist.
I guess that a blister is not really an injury, but they can be very painful and stop you enjoying your run.
The most common place for a runner to have a blister appear is on your heel or on the toes themselves, both caused by friction.
Actually, blisters are your body's way of protecting the internal layer of skin (the dermal layer). When the outer layer of skin begins to rub off, your body produces the yellow fluid in between the 2 layers of skin as an additional level of protection.
This creates a cushion to stop the friction from causing any more damage, allowing the dermal layer to regrow and repair.
How to deal with blisters.
Treating small blisters is not really worth it, and the only thing you can do is try to prevent them from appearing in the first place.
Using the right socks and wearing proper supportive shoes will help reduce the possibility of getting a blister. However, it is not always possible to avoid getting them at all. If the blister is small, they can be left alone to heal on their own, but you should always keep an eye out for any infection.
You don't ever need to pop your blisters, as this can lead to dirt and infection getting under the skin and causing more problems.
Once you see where you are developing a blister, try to take note and see where the friction might be coming from. It could just be something as simple as that your sock was creased when you went for your last run, or that your shoes might be wearing out or giving in a particular place.
If you must drain a blister (larger ones might need to be removed to allow you to walk correctly, for example), then use a needle that has been sterilised and only make a small hole to let the fluid to seep out.
See this video on how to drain a blister properly.
There is no need to remove the top layer of skin as the fresh skin underneath will be raw and sore. Make sure you keep the area clean and dry after draining the large blister, but there is no need to use any creams or ointments.
You can still run after you have drained the blister, but it is a good idea to use some moleskin (a type of band-aid) to cover the area.
The moleskin will be waterproof and should keep stuck on for a few days, but try to keep it as dry as possible. If it does start to come away from your foot a the edges, just cut those pieces away with some scissors.
Ideally, you should try to keep the moleskin on for around 3-4 days, which will allow plenty of time for the blister to heal correctly.
If you try to remove it before this time has passed, you risk ripping off the outer layer of skin, leaving you with an open wound that will be very painful.
If you think that there is any new pus or redness after this time, the blister may have become infected, so seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Toenail or foot fungus.
If you find that your toes or feet are itchy, red and have peeling skin, then you may be suffering from foot fungus or athlete's foot.
Fungus of the toenail can be identified by the discolouration or the toenail or if you can see white or blotchy areas.
Unfortunately, fungus loves to grow in warm and moist areas, which as a runner, your feet are the perfect environment.
Fungus of the feet never really causes any significant issues for you and is usually just something that is annoying, more than anything. However, if left untreated fungus of the toenail can develop into ingrowing toenails, which can be very painful and may require surgery to have them sorted out.
Treatments for toe and foot fungus.
If you think you have foot fungus, there are many treatments available over the counter from your local drugstore or online.
Ideally, look to reduce the possibility that your socks and shoes will become too warm when running. There are special running socks and ventilated shoes available that might help with this.
Toenail fungus is also easily treatable and can range from ointment that you apply to the affected area or pills that you take to kill the infection internally.
Again, preventing it from happening is your best course of action.
Using good quality running socks is ideal and make sure you have a good fit for your running shoes too.