Depending on a person’s activity level and choice of exercises, the feet can really take a beating. Dancing, sports, running, speed-walking, wearing high heels, accidents and genetics can all play a role in foot damage, as can strained tendons, hammertoe and bunions.
Unfortunately, in many cases the damage has already been done and physical therapy or surgery may be the only treatment options. But there are many things everyone can do to prevent painful foot problems from occurring, and we’re going to share them with you below.
1. Wear Good Shoes
Shoes that provide the right amount of cushioning and stability for your particular needs are worth every penny. There are even shoe stores that cater to runners in which they will watch you jog on a treadmill and analyze your style to find the best shoe for you.
Tight or narrow shoes like high heels can cause foot pain and misalignment, so avoid them completely. You may also want to buy a half-size up from your usual shoe size for running shoes, because feet swell a little during exercise, and you don’t want your toes getting jammed tightly into the toe-box of the shoe.
2. Wear No Shoes
The barefoot or minimal shoe trend has been growing in popularity as more people are realizing that running the way nature intended for human feet to flex can reduce bodily impact, damage and pain. Barefoot running has been shown to more efficiently burn energy and use less oxygen than traditional shoe running, while strengthening feet by using all of the tendons.
If you usually run with shoes, you will need to transition slowly to barefoot running to allow the previously unused muscles to adjust to the new style. Because calves and tendons have been in a different position during shoe running, you might want to perform stretches every day to give your legs and feet adequate time to strengthen as you learn to run barefoot. And if your feet are already out of alignment, such as in the case of bunions, this minimal method may not provide you with the cushioning you need to avoid pain, so proceed with caution.
3. Exercise Your Feet
In addition to exercising other parts of your body, consider doing exercises specifically to strengthen the muscles of your feet. Building up muscles can increase foot flexibility, preventing damage and misalignment of bones by holding them correctly in place.
Many people go to the gym to work out other muscle groups, but neglect to build up the parts that support the rest of the body—the feet. Establish a daily foot stretching and exercising routine that will help your feet stay strong and injury-free.
4. Avoid Hard Surfaces
Always try to find the softest, most forgiving surface on which to run. If you’re a barefoot runner, try running on grass, for example. If you’re a traditional runner or speed-walker, opt for the cushioned track or treadmill rather than sidewalks and concrete roads. Or challenge yourself by running on nature trails with dirt surfaces that will be easier on your joints, with uneven terrain to increase your agility.
5. Choose the Right Socks
It seems like such a small thing to worry about, but the socks you choose can have a big impact on the health of your feet. Most people assume natural fabric like cotton is automatically superior to synthetic, but those fancy, high-tech socks they’re selling in the running shoe section of your local sporting goods store are actually worth the investment. Synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from skin, rather than absorbing and holding it in to create a bacterial and fungal breeding ground. Synthetic fabrics also decrease friction, making blisters less likely.
No matter what your activity level, there is always a way to protect your feet from damage and injury. Use the helpful foot care tips above to keep your feet feeling great and running strong for as far as you’d like them to take you. And if you’re experiencing pain, get to a podiatrist for treatment as soon as possible. There are physical therapists trained specifically in foot problems to get your injured foot healed and back on the road in no time.
Brian Laurence is a professional blogger that offers information and advice on foot pain and hammertoe problems. He writes for MiToe, a hammertoe treatment the permanently repairs hammertoes and hammertoe pain.