If you enjoy running, taking care of your feet is not just an option, it’s a necessity. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned runner, understanding how to care for your feet is essential for injury prevention and optimizing performance. Consider these tips on selecting the right running shoes, preventing and treating blisters, maintaining healthy toenails, and incorporating stretching and strengthening exercises for safeguarding your most crucial asset—your feet.

Start With Your Shoes

Selecting the right pair of running shoes is the crucial first step toward a healthy and injury-free running experience. Finding the perfect fit for your feet can make a world of difference in comfort and performance. For this you will first need to consider your arch type, foot pronation, shoe cushioning and flexibility needs.

ARCH TYPE. Arch refers to the curve along the bottom of your foot, which are shaped by the tendons, ligaments and foot bones working together. Babies are born with flat feet and develop foot arches or retain flat feet through everyday foot use and injury, unique to each individual. There are three primary arch types, which can be easily identified with your bare footprint sample: if you see your entire footprint, you have flat feet, while seeing just the heal and ball of your foot indicates a high arch. A half-filled in footprint on one side is a normal arch.

For high-arched feet, choose shoes with ample cushioning to absorb shock and reduce the risk of issues like shin splints or stress fractures, and always choose shoes with arch support to give your feet the extra support your soles are unable to provide. Runners with normal arches can usually wear a wider range of shoes, but stability or neutral shoes often provide the best balance and comfort. Runners with low arches need shoes with firm arch support to help distribute the load evenly and prevent overpronation. Gels or cushy foam do not offer enough support for flat feet.

PRONATION. Pronation refers to your gait, and the natural rolling motion of the foot as it lands and pushes off the ground during walking or running. Ideally, your feet transfer the impact of landing to the balls of your feet, but quite often the weight is shifted to your heels’ outer edges. Check the bottoms of your shoes for wear patterns, which can help you detect under or overpronation issues. There are three types of pronation:

Neutral pronation means the foot rolls slightly inward upon impact, distributing the force evenly. Choose neutral shoes for this type. Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls excessively inward, potentially causing alignment issues and flat feet. This can lead to conditions such as bunions, plantar fasciitis, plus hip, knee and back pain. Runners with overpronation benefit from stability or motion control shoes to correct this motion. Supination (underpronation) means the foot rolls outward, leading to less shock absorption. Runners with supination should choose cushioned shoes to help absorb impact.

SHOE CUSHIONING AND FLEXIBILITY. Cushioning in running shoes is crucial to absorb shock and reduce the impact on your joints. Proper cushioning is often found in the midsole and heel areas of the shoe, dependent upon your arch and pronation needs. Heavier runners may prefer more cushioning to protect their joints, while lighter runners may opt for a more responsive feel. Shoes should bend where your feet naturally do to ensure a natural range of motion. Check for flexibility in the forefoot area to allow your toes to flex comfortably during your stride.

Prevent And Treat Blisters

Blisters are a runner’s nemesis, but with the right approach, they can be effectively prevented and treated.

PREVENTION. Choosing well-fitting shoes is your first line of defense against blisters. Ensure there’s enough room above, alongside, and between your toes to prevent friction from the toe box of the shoe. Choose moisture-wicking socks to help keep your feet dry, reducing the likelihood of blisters due to excess moisture.

TREATMENT. Clean the area by washing the blister and surrounding skin with mild soap and water to prevent infection. After cleaning, apply an antibiotic ointment to the blister. This not only keeps it clean but also promotes healing. Cover the blister with a bandage to prevent further friction and irritation. Allow natural healing if a blister pops by keeping it clean and covered to prevent infection. Soak your blister several times a day in warm salt water to help dry out the skin and promote faster healing.

Protection And Care For Healthy Toenails

Toenail care is vital for runners to avoid discomfort and injury. Here’s what you can do:

Trim your toenails straight across to prevent ingrown toenails. Avoid cutting them too short or rounding the corners, as this can lead to painful ingrown nails. Choose shoes with enough room in the toe box to prevent pressure on your toenails. This helps prevent runner’s toenail, a condition where a toenail might turn black due to blood leaks from broken blood vessels under the nail caused by the continuous microtraumas of the nail hitting against the shoe. After your run, clean and thoroughly dry your feet, including the area around your toenails. Moisture can lead to fungal infections. Keeping your feet dry and clean is essential for overall toenail health.

Stretch And Strengthen To Enhancing Foot Performance And Prevent Injuries

Stretching and strengthening exercises play a crucial role in enhancing foot performance and preventing injuries for runners. By incorporating regular stretching into your routine both pre and post run, you can improve flexibility and range of motion in the feet, which helps to reduce the risk of muscle strains and other soft tissue injuries. Stretching also promotes blood circulation, which aids in recovery after running sessions.

Warm up before each run with something as simple as 5 minutes of walking with some arm swinging, standing spinal twists, and leg swings. Post run, you’ll want to stretch your hamstrings and quads, as well as do lunges for your calves. Get onto the floor for spinal twists, plus deep stretches to your gluts to lengthen the piriformis. Remember to breathe!

Add strengthening exercises for maintaining strong foot muscles. Strong muscles provide stability and support during each stride, reducing the likelihood of overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis or stress fractures. Do scrunches with your toes on a towel lying flat on the floor. Pick marbles up with your toes one by one and drop them into a bowl. Place your feet flat on the floor and using just one foot at a time, experiment with pressing as much of your entire foot into the floor as possible. Consciously pick up one toe at a time, or one side of the foot or heel, and notice how your weight shifts.

Ensure your feet are well taken care of as the foundation for your successful and injury-free running journey, and then let your well-cared-for feet carry you to new heights!

Liam McDougall is a health and fitness writer and a lifelong running enthusiast. He has competed in several marathons around the country.

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