Foot pain or injury is sometimes a frustrating downside of running. You put a lot of force through your feet when you run, and it’s often a forgotten body part when it comes to training, physical preparation, and general care.
Now, there are some foot injuries caused from running that would be best treated by a podiatrist or physical therapist. So it’s important that if you’re suffering from a foot injury or pain of some sort you consult a specialist.
Here are some common causes of foot pain
- Metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of your foot)
- Stress fracture
- Plantar fascia pain (most common type of heel pain)
In today’s blog I will cover some strategies that you can include in your training to reduce the risk of running injuries; Managing changes in volume and intensity, choosing the right footwear and managing any functional or structural issues is a good place to start.
One foot has 33 joints and 26 bones.
Our spine has 33 joints and 34 bones.
The ability to move and be aware of our spine in space is an important factor in human movement, strength, mobility, and overall wellbeing.
The foot is no different. We also have two feet (don’t say I never taught you anything). So that’s 66 articulating joints impacting the rest of the body every time your feet hit the ground. These two structures are required to bring balance to the force… I mean skeleton, (Sorry! Star Wars habit) and mobilise our mass forwards. To do this in an efficient and energy-conserving way, our feet need to have the capacity to adapt to the surface underneath them.
The foot is the only structure of our body that regularly contacts the ground. The bony and soft tissue structures must withstand ground reaction forces during running equal to 3 to 4 times normal body weight. During running, a foot must change from a rigid, arched structure on initial contact with the ground, to a malleable, flat structure during mid-stance phase. This helps to accommodate uneven surfaces and allows the forces to be dispersed effectively. Finally, when pushing off the toes, a foot transfers back to a rigid structure to generate power and propel you forwards.
The foot is an amazing structure, and as we can see it has a very important job to do. So how do we optimise it?
When running, we must strike a balance between over-training and undertraining.
Studies looking at Australian footballers and rugby union players have shown that a weekly increase of more than 10% of the load used in the previous week, can increase the risk of injury risk by up to 49%. When training load was fairly constant (ranging from 5% to less than 10% more than the previous training week), players had <10% risk of injury (Gabbett, 2016).
So what can we learn from this? Acute spikes in training volume or intensity increase the risk of injury. So to reduce this risk, think about graduated exposure to load each week and give yourself de-load periods, or recovery weeks, to reduce the overall training volume.
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Finding the right footwear
Some research out of the United States Army for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine suggests that there is no need for an individualised running shoe that matches the shape and biomechanics of your feet. However poorly fitting and worn-out shoes may result in higher injury rates (Knapik, 2009).
The main takeaway here is to find a pair of running shoes that you find comfortable and if they are wearing out, get a new pair. Simple really.
Managing structural and functional issues
The foot is a complex structure which requires gyroscopic precision to propel our mass forward (or in any direction) efficiently and effectively. I believe that any good running programme should be accompanied with appropriate strength or movement training for the foot and the rest of the body. To help with this, I recommend you strengthen surrounding structures and improve your body’s mobility and flexibility, as well as body awareness. Strength training will not make you slow or bulky, but instead provide your body with robustness and stability (provided your training programme is designed properly). In addition to this, some focus should be made on single leg strength training, hip and groin strength, trunk control and plyometrics. Do not underestimate the positive influence of this type of work for the foot itself!
In conclusion, we want to manage load, wear comfortable good quality footwear and prepare your body well.
- Gabbett, Tim J. “The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?.” British journal of sports medicine5 (2016): 273-280.
- Knapik, Joseph J., et al. “Injury reduction effectiveness of selecting running shoes based on plantar shape.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research3 (2009): 685-697.