How to prevent foot injuries

About a week ago, I set off on a big, mountainous trail run as part of training for a couple of upcoming races. As I tipped over the edge of the last pass and started making my way downhill, I took an inventory of my body. My quads? Honestly, not that bad. My lungs? Hanging in there. Stomach? A good amount full.

My feet? Terrible. Just terrible.

By the time I hit the parking lot, they were burning. The edges of my baby toenails felt like someone was going at them with a pair of pliers and I could have sworn my soles had completely rubbed off.

If you’re any kind of athlete, but most definitely if you’re a runner, your feet take a huge amount of abuse, but it’s easy to ignore how much they do for you until something goes wrong. Here’s what you can do to keep them tough, toned up and blister free.

Stretch

Stretch it out. Photo: Abigal Keenan/Unsplash

Tight feet and legs can lead to long-term nagging injuries like plantar fasciitis and shin splints. Preventative stretching can help that. Roll out the bottom of your feet on a tennis ball or foam roller (try keeping one under your desk). Stretch your calves by hanging your heels over the edge of a step. Spread your toes and stretch them away from each other. Get some yoga in your life: Practice your downward dog and your pigeon.

Strengthen

Feet are your most abused body part. Photo: Mark Jefferson/Unsplash

Calf raises can prevent Achilles tendonitis. Single-leg balance exercises such as pistol squats and Romanian deadlifts help strengthen your stabilizers. To really make things fun, try dumping a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the floor, then picking them up with your toes. Seriously.

Mind your nails

Pretty and preventative. Photo: Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash

This is much more than just vanity. A proper pedicure can make a big difference, as an ingrown or broken toenail can put you on the couch for a surprisingly long time. Keep your nails short and square.

Get your gear dialed

Get the right shoes and socks. Photo: Hunter Johnson/Unsplash

Taking a zillion steps in the wrong shoes is a recipe for pain. Get sneaks that fit right (going to a shop where your gait is assessed can help) and replace them as they wear down, every 300 to 500 miles. On an easier, cheaper, day-to-day level, wear wicking non-cotton socks. Moisture leads to blisters.

Lubricate your feet before a run

Lubed up inside. Photo: Jakob Owens/Unsplash

Lube makes everything better, for real. Chafing, cracking and blisters can be the quickest way to ruin a run, and slathering your soles and the space between your toes with some kind of anti-chafing product, like Body Glide, can alleviate hot spots and keep you comfortable.

Learn more about how to prevent injury

The case for taking a break from your sport

What's prehab and why should I do it?

The most common ski injuries and how to avoid them