Foot Health for Runners

My feet after the 2008 run across the U.S.: my right foot had suffered plantar fasciitis and Achilles pain, both of which improved (some) while I was still covering sixty miles a day on my way to NYC.

Runners regularly ask me about plantar fasciitis in the arch and heel, Achilles pain, cramping, and heat, wondering if there’s a relationship and what a person can do to safeguard against injury. Yes, there’s a relationship, and yes, there are a few things you can do to prevent these common runners’ ailments—all of which I’ve experienced and successfully healed (more or less) at one time or another. A couple of years ago, I dealt with all three at once.

Usually, symptoms of foot pain are caused by overused and tight ligaments and muscles that reach up into the lower portion of the leg, so stretching your calf muscles often helps. The connecting tissue and muscle in the calf area affects the plantar region, as well as the Achilles tendon of your foot, so concentrate on stretching those muscles in the lower leg.

In stretching any part of the body, I’ve found it best to warm the muscles up by moving at a modest pace, then stretching, and then continuing on into your training. Gentle stretching at the end of a workout can be even further helpful in maintaining muscle health.

Here are a couple of classic stretches that do the trick:

  • Do a runner’s stretch, pushing against a wall with your hands, placing one foot forward in a bent, relaxed position and applying gentle tension on the other leg while it’s extended back with your weight on the ball of this foot; alternate after about thirty seconds to a minute.
  • Find a stair step, and put the balls of your feet on the rise as you drop your heels; you’ll feel a gentle stretch of the calf muscles and the arches of your feet.

If you experience irritation in the Achilles area, try cutting a slit down the back of your running shoe’s heel cup, about 1/2″ to 1/8″ to relieve the pressure. (Worried about ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes? Remember that they’re expendable but your feet aren’t.) Icing and ibuprofen can help reduce the inflammation that exacerbates soft tissue problems.

Plantar fasciitis is a bit tricky, but what’s worked for me in the past is to remove the insole of the shoe and get an over-the-counter “soft” arch support. I prefer a 3/4 length, but if that feels odd to you, you can get one that’s full length. Look for something to offer gentle support but flex enough to allow your foot to do what it’s designed to do and get stronger. A Strassburg sock (splint), worn while you sleep, helps keep the foot in a ninety-degree position, allowing for an all-night stretch that can be beneficial in healing. All of this can be aided, again, by icing and ibuprofen.

Generally, cramping in the foot and other areas of the body is caused by salt lost through sweating and high temperatures, especially when the heat radiates up from the ground and is magnified by a hard, dark surface, such as asphalt. With temperatures above 75 degrees, I advise taking an electrolyte supplement; my favorites are Salt Stick and Sustain. I’ve taken 250 mg every hour while running, or even double that under extreme conditions. Taking these supplements, you must be sure to drink plenty of water.

With all these issues, you have to gauge what’s best for your own body and, of course, it’s wise to consult the appropriate health-care professional whenever you’re considering taking medication and supplements, or if an injury becomes acute or chronic.

Happy running!

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17 Responses to Foot Health for Runners

  1. Irene says:

    Good article. I have sent it on to the runner I know.

  2. Pingback: Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Pain and Other Foot Health Information for Runners « Inside Tamarack Blog

  3. Love reading your blogs man. You are quite inspiring. I get quite down these days as ive battled injuries for over 20 weeks. i just healed my knee issue ( really a tight ham issue) and was so excited went out on an extreme trail run and tore a ligament in my ankle….it just wont heal. Ankle is so stiff and sore most mornings. have a great massage therapist and an ART expert. doing lots of stretching. I really really want to run injury free for a while and train for my first hundred miler in may and then to return and conquor the Death Race where the knee problem knocked me out last year.
    Anyrate your blogs pick me up and re-inspire me to keep pushing forward
    Stefan Czapalay´s last blog post ..Death Race 2011…………the run continues

  4. Charles Matt says:

    Good share. I play organized basketball outside. During the hot days, 80+ degrees, many players complain of cramps, particularly in the feet. I use to experience the same thing and can say that salt stick caps will really help prevent it from happening. While water is important, it does not give your body all of the electrolytes needed. Great post on a topic that needs more light.
    Got corns on feet? Learn how to get rid of corns quick and easy.
    Charles Matt´s last blog post ..Corns of Feet | Quick Removal Tips

  5. Josh says:

    All runners need to try out some custom Orthotics. They saved my life.

  6. Dan says:

    Great tips, I have been battling plantar fasciitis for the last 6 months and found that taping, icing and stretching, as well as rolling a gold ball along the fasciia has been helpful.

  7. Thanks for the great tips man, I really like that you mentioned cramping in the foot. I can’t tell if what I am experiencing is cramps or something more. I will try increasing my salt intake, but I might have it checked by a podiatrist regardless.

    • Kenneth, How are your feet treating you these days? I hope the electrolytes helped. Did you go to the podiatrist? Hope you’re running (feet, at least) pain free! Best, marsh

  8. Paul Langley says:

    This is some really great information for any runner looking to minimize injury in their feet and legs. I liked your point about stretching to prevent or help with foot pain, because those muscles rarely get stretched before a run unless you really know why they need to be. And I had never heard of warming up before stretching, but that makes a lot of sense; I’ll have to try that on my next run. Thanks so much for writing!

  9. Christina says:

    You make a good point about drinking plenty of water. Also, cramping can be caused by dehydration and salt issues, as you claim.

  10. Rick N says:

    Plantar fasciitis is my worst nightmare! I was a track runner in high school and college. Ever since I stopped running and entered the corporate world I suffer from plantar fasciitis after any HIIT workout.

    The only solution I’ve got so far is low-impact training – like spin class.
    Rick N´s last blog post ..Is Rice Fattening?

  11. I discovered not long ago how important it is to properly stretch your Achilles area. I’m a distance runner, and this improved my running SO much. And I’ll definitely try that “Salt Stick” and “Sustain” that you recommend! Thanks!

  12. Running is something that I would like to get into for my workouts. I’ve just always wondered how often injuries can happen and what I should do. I’m glad that you mentioned icing and using ibuprofen to help with swelling from running. It might be a good idea to find a sports podiatrist in case of injuries. Thanks for the tip!

  13. Kyle says:

    You make some good points on the night splint and icing for helping with your plantar fasciitis. Hope all is well.

  14. Mark Smith says:

    i also have Achilles issue. but you explain very well i will try this and share with you my experience. Thank you

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