Do you ever feel like your feet are more of a problem than helpful when running? Do you feel pain no matter how many foot soaks you do? If your feet are a source of pain for you and don’t seem to get any better with time, you’re not alone.
Even world-class track and field stars struggle with common foot problems that can sideline them for weeks at a time. But fear not! The good news is that most foot problems—from overpronation to plantar fasciitis—can be diagnosed, treated, and prevented from reoccurring.
With some diligent care and training, you can too! Here we’ll take an in-depth look at common foot problems encountered by runners: From the first sign of trouble to recovery, treatment options, prevention techniques, and more.
Overpronation is a common foot problem that occurs when your foot rolls too far inward while running. This can cause an uneven pattern of pronation—or how your foot curves when rolling forward—which, in turn, can lead to various foot and ankle injuries.
When you overpronate, your foot rolls inward, causing your outer heel to come off the ground. This causes your foot to turn in the opposite direction of what you want it to do, and often leads to Achilles tendon strain, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or a variety of other overuse injuries.
Overpronation is often associated with a few other ailments as well. If you overpronate and are also experiencing pain in the ankle, it may be due to ankle instability. If you overpronate, but your pain is in the heel and ankle, you may have a problem with flat feet.
Finally, if overpronation is causing excess stress to your knees and hips, it may be an indication that your form is off and you need to re-evaluate your running. A great way to fix this problem is by using custom orthotics!
Heel striking occurs when your heel hits the ground before your toes do. This can occur because of a neurological issue, a biomechanical issue, or both. Technically, it’s called “striking” the heel because you’re not rolling it forward, leading to a twist in your foot and ankle.
Heel striking is a common sign of overpronation and can also be a symptom of a number of other foot health concerns. If you have heel strike and also have pain in your ankle, it may be due to ankle instability or a flat-footed problem like hammertoes. If you heel strike, but the pain is in the foot, it may be a shockwave disorder (ankle sprain) or a bunion.
Dropping the Toes
Dropping the toes is a sign of excessive pronation and is often characterized by a clicking/crackling in the toes/ball of the foot. Dropping the toes is a sign of overpronation, especially when accompanied by pain.
Dropping the toes is often a sign of a biomechanical issue or neurological problem. It can also be a sign of a stress fracture or Achilles tendonitis. Dropping the toes can also be a sign of poor biomechanics and is often a red flag for improper form.
If you experience dropping the toes, be sure to check your form! If you’re heel striking and dropping your toes, you may be overstriding and causing your knees to come forward too much. This can result in a risk for a knee injury, for example, an ACL tear, or meniscus tear to PCL sprain.
Flat feet are a sign of mild or severe arthritic changes in the joints in your feet. More often than not, flat feet are a result of a running-related issue. If you experience pain in your heel while running, it may be due to a bunion.
Bunions are caused usually by excessive pronation, which causes the joint between the big toe and the adjacent joint to become jammed. The only way to correct this is to have it surgically corrected. If you have flat feet and experience pain in the ball of your foot while running, you may be experiencing metatarsalgia.
Metatarsalgia is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the fibrous band that connects your heel to your toes. It’s most often caused by compensating foot movements, such as toe-off too early or heel strike too late.
A bunion is a benign swelling of the foot that occurs over the base of the big toe joint. It’s often the result of a genetic predisposition and can be difficult to treat. If you’re experiencing pain in your big toe joint, it may be a sign of impingement or tendonitis in the big toe joint.
If you’re experiencing pain in the ball of your foot, it may be a sign of a bunion or metatarsalgia. It may also be a sign of an underlying biomechanical issue with your foot form.
Shock Wave Disorder (Swiss Ball Leg)
Shock Wave Disorder (SWD) is a neurological condition associated with conditions such as multiple sclerosis or stroke. It causes a lack of control over your leg muscles, resulting in episodes of involuntary leg muscle contracting and spasms.
These episodes can be extremely painful and disrupt daily life. For runners with SWD, the symptoms can vary. Some runners report that their legs feel like they’re asleep—like they’re trying to move and can’t.
Others may feel like their legs are weak and vulnerable as if they can’t support their own weight. SWD can be difficult to diagnose. It can be mistaken for a variety of other conditions. It’s important that you visit a doctor to make sure that you’re not misdiagnosing the problem.
Running is a fitness activity that’s packed with potential for injury, especially if you don’t make the most of your training and follow proper body mechanics, but don’t despair! It’s possible to train safely and avoid injury without compromising your overall fitness goals. Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to preventing common foot problems from sidetracking you from your runs.