7 Common Running Foot Health Mistakes that Runner’s Make
1. Not understanding your foot type
It is important to understand your foot type so that you know which of your foot structures may become overloaded when running. Understanding your foot type can then help you focus on addressing areas of most importance in terms of strength and direct you towards the correct type of running shoes.
For example, someone with a hypermobile (very flexible), flat arched foot type have soft tissue structures that are placed at a mechanical disadvantage during various stages of the running gait cycle. This may require a strengthening program focusing on these structures as well as footwear with the right features to help de-load. The use of taping, padding and/or an orthotic device may also be required if there is persistent, ongoing and/or long standing pain a runner is dealing with.
2. Neglecting foot strength
Foot strength is important as an injury prevention measure for the 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot. Unfortunately you cannot alter or change your natural foot structure that may be more prone to certain overuse injuries but you can provide as much support as possible by building foot and ankle specific strengthening exercises into your weekly running strengthening program.
3. Neglecting flexibility
Many runners have certain areas that need constant flexibility work. This is important because the foot is at the end of the kinetic chain and restrictions further up the chain can possibly lead to compensation.
The easiest example to think of is restriction of the ankle joint. If the ankle joint does not bend the required 35 to 38 degrees for running then joints lower in the foot (namely Subtalar joint and Midfoot joints) have to bend more to find the required running range. Not only does this place more stress on these joints but also those supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments.
4. Not understanding your foot strike pattern
Even though the factors of great running technique and correct cadence are arguably more important, having a good understanding of how your foot strikes the ground can help you understand potential overuse injury risks. It can also help direct you towards certain areas of focus with foot and lower limb strengthening exercises as well as help decide on the correct types of running shoes.
One reason why foot strike can be often pushed to the side by practitioners is because there is a lack of evidence that heel striking or forefoot striking (landing on the front of your foot) is better for you. Even so in some runner’s injury situations we need to take a common sense approach when trying to offload certain structures we know are used more during certain striking patterns.
For example, if a runner is striking on their forefoot then they are placing more load through their calf muscle and Achilles tendon. This may be a contributing factor to their ongoing Achilles problems especially if they are not strong enough for the amount of running they are attempting to do. Consideration for this runner may be moving to a heel or mid-foot strike (with great technique and correct cadence to counteract over-striding!) to de-load the Achilles as well as using a higher heel pitched running shoes to further help lift and offload.
5. Not choosing the correct running, work and casual shoes
There are a large number of different footwear options out there not only for running but for casual and work. Choosing the correct options can potentially contribute to reducing injury risk.
For example, if your foot happens to excessively pronate (excessively roll in) then you may benefit from the use of a stability shoe to help try and reduce the amount of pronation. This could potentially allow those arch supporting structures to not have to work as hard and therefore help reduce injury risk.
Finding the correct types of footwear for your foot type can be daunting task but made easier by having great local footwear stores that can provide you with great advice. The correct length, width, cushioning, heel height, stability features and brand/model intricacies will often be known by an experienced, knowledgeable footwear store employee. A good running or casual/work shoe store will also get a lot of referrals from Podiatrists so they know what we are looking for in terms of the above.
6. Not seeing a foot health professional (a Podiatrist)
If you are currently in pain or have a long history of niggling running foot injuries then seeing a Podiatrist who specialises in running can not only help you refine the above solutions to the above first five mistakes but they can also provide you with soft tissue offloading solutions. After confirming your foot type, assessing your strength and range of movement and performing a video running analysis to see how your foot functions then they are able to recommend specific neutral or stability shoes, provide suitable foot and ankle strength and flexibility program, show you specific self-taping techniques and use practitioner taping and padding to help offload areas of pain. If 100% required and usually after suitable testing with taping and padding an orthotic device (off the shelf or customised) may be useful as an offloading tool if your foot structure and/or long standing, re-occurring symptoms require a longer term solution.
7. Not seeing a Physiotherapist
One main reason I feel it is critical for a runner to see a Physiotherapist (when helping a Podiatrist address running foot pain) is for a lower limb and core strengthening program. For example if you are weak through your hip abductor muscles (muscles that move the hip and upper leg out) then you can have excessive hip adduction (upper leg moves in) and internal rotation (twisting in) of the lower limb while you are running. This can have an effect further down the kinetic chain by causing a greater pronation (rolling in) force through the foot leading to or contributing to overload of certain soft tissue.
A Physiotherapist is also best equipped to guide you through key running strengthening and flexibility areas as well as providing you with an appropriate running program suited to experience and current injury rehabilitation stage.
BSc (Biomed), BHlthSc (Pod)
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