Injury prevention for runner’s feet doesn’t start and end with good shoes. There’s so much more you can do.
Sure, the right running shoes are hugely important. As the only thing between you and the unforgiving ground, they need to be built to take a pounding.
But if that were all it took to keep runners out of the physio office and on track, the statistics for running feet injuries wouldn’t be nearly so high.
A study of 1,680 runners over the period of a year found that 48% of those studied experienced at least one injury. 54% of those injuries were new, but the rest had been recurrences of injuries from the past.
As you can see, running injuries are common – one of the biggest culprits is “giving it time to heal,” and letting the injury take its damaging toll.
There are a whole host of things that can happen to your poor feet. Thankfully, treating them and getting you back onto the road doesn’t have to take weeks. The cure can be found in the right foot care and the right equipment.
In this post, we’re going to look at how to treat and prevent the 5 most common foot ailments for runners, including:
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Athlete’s Foot
- Friction Blisters
- Runner’s Toe
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Then we look at general foot care tips for runners!
Let’s jump in!
The 5 Most Common Injuries for Runner’s Feet
First, let’s run through the 5 most common injuries that running feet suffer from:
1. Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, connecting your heel bone to your calf muscle. It’s what allows you to walk, jump, and stand. Since the Achilles tendon is so important in your daily life, you can understand why it is such a big deal when something happens to it.
Achilles Tendonitis is essentially inflammation; Achilles tendons can become inflamed in two places:
- The lower part, where it attaches to your heel, called insertional Achilles tendonitis
- The middle part, called non-insertional Achilles tendonitis
This inflammation can include pain and swelling, tight calf muscles, and limited range of motion when flexing your foot.
Related: Injury Recovery: Ditch the RICE, Your Soft Tissue Injuries Actually Need PEACE and LOVE
What Causes Achille’s Tendonitis
Overuse, plain and simple.
This is why it’s crucial to increase your mileage gradually; too much too soon can put excessive strain on running feet, as well as the rest of your body. There are several ways you can accidentally overuse your Achilles tendon:
- Using worn-out running shoes
- Not warming up
- Improper running form
How To Treat Achilles’ Tendonitis
The best option is rest.
Your body needs time to heal. A good method that works well here is the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate.
Rest – Stay off of it for a few days.
Ice – Hold an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables to the area for 20 minutes, 3 times a day.
Compression – A compression garment will increase blood flow to the area and reduce swelling.
Elevate – Keep it above your chest if you can, so lying back with your foot propped up on a pillow works well.
See our guide to taping your Achilles Tendon to keep running with AT.
2. Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s Foot, also called tinea pedis, is a fungal infection often found between the toes of runner’s feet. When it happens, you’ll most likely have a scaly rash that can itch, sting, or burn. It can also cause blisters, ulcers, or cracking and peeling skin.
What Causes It
This fungus is contagious and thrives in moist environments such as damp floors and wet socks. It’s commonly found in locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools.
How to Treat Athlete’s Foot
This one, unfortunately, is unlikely to go away by itself.
Fortunately, many treatments for this are over the counter. Start with a topical antifungal medication, found at any drugstore. If it still persists, get a doctor involved for a stronger prescription.
Prevention is the most important when it comes to avoiding Athlete’s foot. Take these steps during your runs to make sure you’re protected:
- Wear synthetic socks built for comfort and dryness
- Change out of sweaty socks immediately after your run
- Wash and dry feet
- Allow shoes to dry completely between sessions. Alternate pairs of shoes if this takes too long.
3. Friction Blisters
You’ve undoubtedly had a few of these at some point throughout your life. These are those uncomfortable, often painful raised bumps on skin.
They fill with fluid, often found after a long day of walking around.
Blisters are your body’s way of forming a cushion between you and further injury, and are even more common in runner’s feet.
What Causes Them
Repetitive friction and rubbing.
In fact, blisters need 3 things to propagate: heat, moisture, and friction.
All of these three can show up quickly in your running shoes.
Often poor quality socks or ill-fitting running shoes are guilty here.
Make sure you choose the right running shoe size and shape for your feet, and that they’re suited for the type of running you do most often.
5 Ways to Prevent Friction Blisters
- Change out your running shoes often. A general rule is every 300-500 miles.
- Wear socks that fully cover your feet from the harsh materials of your shoes.
- Use adhesive cushion pads to stop friction in places you notice rubbing.
- Use baby powder or anti-chafing powder before running to keep sweaty areas dry.
- Lubricate with an anti-chafing balm or Vaseline to reduce rubbing.
How to Treat Friction Blisters When It’s Too Late for Prevention
The good news: friction blisters usually heal just fine on their own. The pocket should shrink and start to heal in a day or two.
Don’t pop them! Popping a blister exposes you to infection. If a blister does get popped for any reason, be sure to wash the area and apply antibiotic ointment before covering with a band-aid.
Read our full guide of dealing for blisters for runners.
4. Runner’s Toe
Also called subungual hematoma, or jogger’s toenail, runner’s toe is a buildup of blood from broken blood vessels under and around your toenail area. It can produce the rather scary effect:
making your toe look like it’s turning black. If enough blood collects, it may start to lift the nail, and the nail may even eventually fall off.
What Causes It
When you run, your toes are consistently mashed against the toe box of your shoes.
Shorter periods of time aren’t usually a problem. But this kind of repeated stress on delicate skin can build, much like hitting the same place on your arm over and over again.
It didn’t hurt the first time…but after the fiftieth time?
Now it does.
How to Treat Runner’s Toe
Not to worry, these usually are nothing serious and heal on their own. If you have no pain or other complications, simply let it be.
If there is pain, such as too much fluid underneath the nail bed, call your doctor. They may opt to drain out the blood. Never try to do this yourself–don’t risk an infection that may lead to far worse problems!
If your bruised toenail does fall off over time, usually a new one will already be growing to replace it. In that case, clean the toe with an antibiotic cream and bandage it. Visit your doctor to make sure everything looks right and to see if any further treatment is needed.
Read our full guide to dealing with Runner’s Toe!
5. Plantar Fasciitis
Similar to Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the bands of tissue between your toes and heel. Also like the Achilles tendon, these bands are essential for running and walking. As such, it can be very frustrating when they become injured.
Most commonly, you’ll feel pain in your heel or in the middle of your foot. If you feel it first thing after getting out of bed or standing up after sitting for a long time, that’s a pretty clear sign.
What Causes It
Too much pressure.
Running long distances and frequent training puts a lot of pressure on the fascia. Certain factors can increase this pressure, such as:
- Worn-out shoes
- Shoes with a lack of support
- Having flat feet
- Being overweight
- Improper running form
How to Treat Plantar Fasciitis
Though it ironically might stop hurting during exercise, it’s important to let it rest. “Walk it off” does not apply here. Remember RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate.
Since this area is so crucial to walking, it can be hard to stay off of it, but you’ll regret it if you don’t stick with it. The study linked at the beginning of this article noted that nearly half of the injuries those runners sustained were reoccurrences from previous injuries.
Let yourself heal.
Tips to Care for Your Runner’s Feet
Here are some general tips to prevent injury and keep you running smoothly.
- Pay attention to form. Make sure your muscles are being used in the right way.
- Use the right equipment. This includes shoes, socks, anti-chafing powder, and so on.
- Never skip warmups or cooldowns. Certain warmup activities, like toe raises and heel drops while standing on steps, can focus on stretching and prepping runner’s feet in just the right places to keep you limber and safe.
- Keep your skin moisturized. Prevent cracking by rubbing your feet down with lotion on a regular basis.
As always, call a doctor if anything looks unusual or if you’re still experiencing pain.
You may have noticed a common theme throughout these injuries is overuse. While you can increase your mileage in a safe way, be careful not to push too far. Keep a record of your runs and increase them using the Ten Percent Rule.
Or, save yourself from the charting and diagramming with a customized marathon training plan. Download one from our free training plan library and get yourself marathon ready in a safe and manageable way.