Tips for Avoiding Foot & Ankle Injuries While Running
If you are a regular runner, it doesn’t matter the weather or the season, you will likely find no excuse big enough to keep you from pounding the pavement. One thing that will slow you down, however, is an injury to your foot or ankle.
Running can be a great form of exercise for maintaining your health, and it can also provide therapeutic benefits like relieving stress, decreasing depression, and improving sleep. Additionally, it happens to be an excellent way to safely stay in shape while social distancing.
But for all of its benefits, running can come with a hefty and painful price if you sustain a foot or ankle injury from doing it. At MidAmerica Orthopaedics, we treat running injuries all too often at our Foot and Ankle Clinic.
Common Foot and Ankle Injuries
Some of the more common foot and ankle injuries we see at MidAmerica Orthopaedics from running are the following:
The Achilles tendon is the band of tissue that runs from your heel to the muscles at the back of the leg. When this tendon is overused, it can become strained (Achilles Tendonitis) or even torn.
The plantar fascia is a band of tissue that runs from the toes to the heel. When this tissue becomes inflamed, it leads to Plantar Fasciitis, manifesting as a particularly painful stabbing pain in the heel. With repeated stress on the plantar fascia, small rips and tears can occur, increasing this pain.
Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures
Runners are at a higher risk for foot and ankle stress fractures because of the repeated stress that is placed on these areas. A stress fracture is a small crack in the bone, as opposed to a fracture, which is a broken bone. Poor conditioning (or none at all) and improper form and technique can increase this risk.
Ankle sprains can range from moderate to severe and are caused by twisting of the foot. This causes damage to the ligaments of the ankle.
Top Tips to Avoid Foot and Ankle Injuries
In the hopes of keeping all of you avid runners doing what you love to do, we are sharing some helpful proactive tips for avoiding foot and ankle injuries like the ones listed above. While implementing the below tips can’t guarantee you’ll remain injury free, they can decrease your chances of sustaining short and long-term injuries from running.
Always Warm Up and Cool Down
As with any exercise or sport, warming up beforehand and cooling down afterwards is an imperative part of the process to avoid injury and speed up recovery. Try doing a slow jog or running in place for a few minutes before starting your run to warm up your body and get your heart ready for a workout. Afterwards, you can slow to a comfortable walk to help cool down or do some of the stretches recommended next.
Condition Your Muscles and Tendons with Effective Stretching
Weak muscles and tendons can leave your body much more susceptible to injury. Strengthening the muscles and tendons in your feet can help ward off foot and ankle injuries and will also provide some relief if you are recovering from an injury. Try incorporating the below stretches a few times a week to condition your muscles and improve your balance for running.
Calf drops: Stand on a step with your heals hanging off the edge. Slowly raise up onto your toes and then lower your heals below the level of the step you are standing on. This will help to stretch the calf muscle as well as the Achilles tendon.
Seated plantar fascia stretch: Sit in a chair with one foot placed over the knee of your other leg. Using your fingers, pull back on your toes until you feel a comfortable stretch in the arch of your foot. Hold and repeat. This stretches the plantar fascia, or arch of your foot.
Toe writing: Sitting in a chair, elevate one foot and begin writing the alphabet with your toes, flexing your ankles, but without moving your leg muscles. Do this on both feet. This helps to improve ankle strength and stability.
Towel pickup: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and a towel underneath them. Keeping your heels on the floor, use your toes to either scrunch the towel towards the back of your feet or to pick up the towel. Release and repeat. This stretches the plantar fascia at the bottom of your foot.
Toe spread: While seated on a chair or the floor, place a rubber band around your toes. This provides resistance. Next, spread your toes apart as wide as possible and hold for 5 seconds. Release and repeat on each foot. This stretch helps to increase strength in your toes, improving balance.
Heel and toe walking: Practice walking around on your toes and also on your heels. This strengthens your ankles and helps to improve balance and stability.
Build Up Your Endurance Gradually
Although exercise and sports are about pushing your body to the limit, that doesn’t mean you just do it all at once. You have to work up to that level. Gradually increase your running time, alternating it with bouts of walking if you are a beginner. Over a period of weeks, you can slowly increase your time to build muscle strength and stability. Incorporating alternative activities or workouts can also help to develop strength while preventing overuse injuries.
Improve Your Spatial Awareness
Your spatial awareness is knowing where your body is in relation to other objects or people. Typically, this is developed in early childhood. However, runners may need to hone this skill to improve their balance, dexterity, and flexibility to prevent injuries. If you find yourself having problems with coordination or feeling clumsy, you might need to develop your spatial awareness. To do this, try picking up hobbies that promote spatial awareness like drawing, photography, and even playing video games! Also, work on focusing on your surroundings, rather than just getting from point A to B. What can you discover around you? Staying active can also be helpful in improving spatial awareness, so don’t feel deterred from running if you think you need improvement here. Just try to be extra aware and cautious while doing it.
Wear the Right Shoes
There is actually still quite a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the best type of shoe to wear when running. Hard soles, soft soles, shoes that are comfortable, or shoes that fit your particular foot type… no one is 100% sure on what works best. Overall, the general consensus is to wear a shoe that is appropriately fitted for your foot type, gait, preferred running style, and running substrate. Never wear shoes that are too tight or too loose. If you can, try them on before buying or even better, get them professionally fitted. Lastly, don’t be stingy when it comes to replacing your shoes. At the first sign of wear or continued discomfort, replace them, and if needed, find a better-suited pair.
MidAmerica Orthopaedics Foot and Ankle Clinic
Of course, even with the right preparations, injuries can still occur. MidAmerica’s foot and ankle specialists have extensive training and experience in both common and complex injuries of the feet. As with all of our services, we offer both surgical and non-surgical treatments based on your individual needs and injury.
If you would like to learn more about preventing injuries while running, or if you have sustained a foot or ankle injury, call us today at (708) 237-7200 so that we can help you prevent further downtime and pain.