How a Runner Can Maintain Happy Feet

The more we run, the more disgruntled our feet become. From a stress fracture to plantar fasciitis to arthritis to more lost toenails than I’d like to count, my feet have seen it all. And they’re not so happy as a result.

Dena Harris, the marathoner I featured earlier in the week, said that her feet used to hurt after long (15+ miles) runs. As she describes it, “I was close to tears. It felt like a million pin pricks after each step.” Though she has no idea what caused it, over time, the pain has dissipated.  Now she suffers from the same predicament we all do – missing nails. Tricia Minnick, one of my featured athletes in Knocking Down Walls, also feels like her feet suffer from all the miles. “I make it up to them by pampering them with nice shoes, post long run ice baths, and staying on a first name basis with my podiatrist.”

So what are the most common foot problems caused by running? Common feet problems, their cause, prevention and treatment, are as follows. Plantar fasciitis. According to Northcoast Footcare, one million runners develop heel pain every year. The most common is plantar fasciitis, a condition in which the plantar fascia, or long ligament in the foot, becomes inflamed. After long periods of rest, such as sleeping at night, the ligament tightens up and hurts! Old shoes, overtraining or too many hills can cause this condition. Ways to improve or heal plantar fasciitis include heel stretches, ice, massage, rest and/or the Strassburg sock, boot and more supportive shoes.

Achilles tendonitis.

Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, often felt along the back of the tendon near the heel.  This is often caused by tight or fatigued calf muscles spawned by poor stretching, excessive hill or speed work, or increasing mileage too quickly. The treatment is similar to that of plantar fasciitis – ice, massage, orthotics and calf stretching.

Stress fractures.

A stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone. Caused by continuous stress, three ways to help prevent this condition are better cushioning (from shoes), softer surfaces and gradual mileage increases. Sadly, if a stress fracture does occur, you need to stop running. Continuing to run may make the fracture worse or cause the bone to break. If you have suspect you have a stress fracture, don’t mess around and visit a doctor.

Ankle sprains.

Though you may be more accustomed to hearing about this injury as a result of playing basketball or soccer, runners can twist their ankles, too, particularly if they run a lot on trails. Generally the result of torn ligaments, mild to moderate sprains can be aided by braces. These braces range from ace bandages to lace-up ankle braces. I also recommend ankle strengthening exercises at the gym or at home, such as those found on


One of the most common injuries in runners, blisters are caused by friction forces on the foot. The best way to treat a blister is to prevent it – by wearing proper shoes and socks. Moleskin might help, too. That said, the inevitable will eventually happen. And if you develop a mild blister, leave it alone. However, if the blister is larger, you can drain it with a sterilized needle and keep the ‘leftover’ skin intact for protection.

Can shoes help?

Few dispute that wearing proper shoes can help prevent injuries of all kinds, particular those involving the feet. But don’t forget: Most shoes wear out after 500 miles, so throw them out when they’ve lost their cushioning. In case you haven’t noticed, though, there’s also growing interest in going barefoot these days.

What about ‘no’ shoes?

Barefoot Angie Bee gets more out of her running experiences by feeling the earth beneath her toes. She shares her thoughts and opinions on barefoot running via her blog and via this post on my site a few months ago. The No Meat Athlete, Matt Frazier, shares his thoughts on How to Get the Benefits of Barefoot Running (Without Taking Off Your Shoes) on his wonderful blog. By increasing your turnover rate, or number of steps per minute while running, you can reduce your body’s impact with the ground it hits. These shorter, quicker steps improve your running form, increase your overall speed and reduce your chance of getting injured – at least in theory. If you do decide to go shoe-less, wear Vibram Five Fingers or a minimalist shoe, be extra careful to bump your mileage carefully – to protect your feet and other body parts.

A little pampering goes a long way

Regardless of your shoes or lack thereof, it’s still nice to pamper your feet. A foot massage not only feels wonderful, but it may also loosen up those tight ligaments. And of course, a pedicure helps our otherwise nail-less toes and calluses look a bit better. Just make sure you save those pedicures for after long runs and races and not immediately before. Treat those feet with TLC. You want to keep them happy if you want to keep running!

Melinda Hinson