Whether you're a casual runner or you regularly tackle marathons, taking good care of your tootsies will help you put your best foot forward.
"The human foot endures the stresses of daily activity," says Daniel Arrhenius, DPM, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon with
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Garden Grove. "For runners, the feet are more vulnerable to injury than any other part of the body, and these athletes should be on the alert for signs of foot problems that can slow them down if not treated promptly."
Dr. Arrhenius, who is a member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, says it's important for runners to take steps to control common foot problems.
The most frequent complaint from runners is heel pain, Dr. Arrhenius says. This condition, also called plantar fasciitis, is often caused by inflammation of the ligament that holds up the arch. That can come from unequal pressure applied to the inside of the foot and from running shoes that are worn out or too soft.
At the first sign of heel pain, runners should do stretching exercises, wear sturdier shoes and use arch supports, Dr. Arrhenius says. In some cases, icing and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help. Custom orthotics, injections and physical therapy might be needed if heel pain continues.
Neuromas and tendonitis are other common foot problems that affect runners. A neuroma is a pinched nerve between the toes that can cause pain, numbness and a burning sensation in the ball of the foot. Overly flexible shoes often are the cause; padding, orthotics or injections usually are effective. Sometimes surgery is needed if pain between the toes continues for more than six months.
Serious runners can be sidelined with tendonitis if they ignore the warning signs of this overuse-related condition.
"There are several forms of tendonitis that affect the Achilles and other areas, and all are treated with rest, icing, stretching and anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes with orthotics and physical therapy," Dr. Arrhenius says. "Overzealous training usually causes tendonitis, especially among beginners who try to do too much too soon."
Dr. Arrhenius says many runners don't realize they have a fractured bone in their feet; they mistakenly think they can't walk or run if they have a fracture.
"I often hear surprised patients say 'It can't be broken, I can walk on it,'" he says. "That's wrong, especially with stress fractures when pain and swelling might not occur for a few days."
If a fracture or sprain is suspected, Dr. Arrhenius advises runners to remember the word RICE – an abbreviation for Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation.
"If pain and swelling continues after following the RICE procedure for three or four days, you should see a foot and ankle surgeon for an X-ray and proper diagnosis," Dr. Arrhenius says.
Other common foot ailments Dr. Arrhenius says runners should watch for are:
For more information about St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group or Dr. Arrhenius, click here and
here for foot health information from the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.