By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. — One of many Running blogs on SmartLivingNetwork.com
Distance running is more popular than ever. 5K, 10K, half, full marathon or more - ranks are full at these events. As this pastime turns into a way of life for many, the thought of halting this can be disconcerting. Yet, I see a lot of runners limping into my office with foot injuries.
While running is a great way to burn calories and exercise the leg muscles, it's at the expense of the feet which take repeated blunt force trauma. Success at taking the multitude of extra steps typical of a runner requires perfection in the stride's biomechanics. And, as the saying goes, "Nobody's perfect." Maintaining health despite regular running requires attention to all the tissues of the foot - skin, nails, muscles, nerves and bones.
Fortunately, for you runners out there, injury is not inevitable. Many of these injuries are preventable (and without forsaking mileage)!
The feet are at the base of the whole body. Appropriate balance and cushion are essential. When the arches are flat or ill supported, the foot pronates or turns inward. This causes the muscle at the base of the foot which attaches on the heel base and forms the arch to work extra hard. This extra work can lead to pain and tendonitis, a condition known as plantar fasciitis. In addition, problems at the foundation can disrupt the biomechanics to cause problems up the body in the knees, hips and lower back.
To prevent these painful problems, get running shoes that support your arch adequately. Some need more support than others. If your arches are significantly flat, a rigid arch support is essential to pick the arch up against the weight applied with each step. Foamy, soft supports will just collapse under the weight, defeating the purpose. Other important shoe aspects include having a decent heel cup that fits and binds the heel along with laces which bind the mid-foot. Remember, the best running shoes for you are not necessarily the most expensive, but those that fit your own foot the best. It's also important to replace your shoes when they are worn out (and become not the best). Conventional wisdom is to replace after 500 miles.
Most people don't appreciate the foot when it comes to stretching and warming up before activity. Not including the ankle, each foot contains ten joints and a multitude of muscles and bones. Extending the toes and stretching the plantar fascia can prevent both acute and chronic injury.
Taking care of the foot's skin as a runner is about balance. Keeping the skin too supple can cause blisters. Letting the calluses of the feet get too thick can cause cracking leading to pain and possible infection. Callused skin is important and these calluses can be kept at a moderate level as appropriate armor against the battery that occurs with running. This can be accomplished with a pumice stone. Frequent application of a moisturizing lotion is also important to prevent cracking from dried skin.
Many runners damage nails from the repeated banging. This could involve thickening or even complete loss. For most this is avoidable with proper shoe wear. Trimming the nails short can also help prevent damage. If a particular toenail is repeatedly involved, a tiny square of gauze firmly applied over the nail with tape can prevent damage.
Preventative care should eliminate the majority of foot problems. If problems arise beyond these tips there is always help with your doctor or a podiatrist. For most runners, when there is a will, there is a way around foot problems.
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