Sole Care: How Runners Can Reduce Foot Injuries

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Two days after the Cry Me a River! 50K race, Jessica Maveus, a prosecuting attorney in Illinois, hobbled around the office and courtroom in heels. Most days, Maveus’ work means she’s constantly on her feet, making trips to the courthouse from her office or standing in court.

“During trials, I can be on my feet eight hours each day, plus the walking time and life as a working mom of two kids,” she says. “I average upwards of 10,000 steps each day in life, not counting running or workout time.” For runners with jobs that require them to be on their feet, sometime extra care is needed for those hard-working soles.

“Our feet are like the tires on our car or bike,” says David Watson, physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy. “The more time we spend on our feet, the more miles we are putting on our ‘tires.’ If those who are on their feet all day don’t take care of themselves, they may reach fatigue earlier on in training and be more at risk for common orthopedic injuries, such as plantar fasciitis.”

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Lynne Dunn, a restaurant owner in Florida, says some days she only sits on her commute to work. Her watch usually logs between two to five miles of steps a day. For the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge in January, which involves running a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon over four days, Dunn says the long hours at work and training led to calf strain. She eventually swapped her work heels for flats.

“I always buy my shoes for work one full-size bigger and wear compression socks daily,” she says. “Compression socks are the only way I could function.” While training can be harder because of these jobs, Maveus says she hasn’t made many adjustments to her plan because of the demand on her feet, but she has tried to adapt her footwear.

“I often take off my shoes in the office,” she says. “I also try to wear quality flat shoes to and from work and to and from the courthouse.” Watson suggests focusing on caring for your feet for those long runs, but also giving your soles some attention while on the job. “The most important thing we can do to take extra care of our feet is to make sure we are in good, supportive footwear when we are at work,” he says, adding that orthotics can also be beneficial.

Also, that running specialty shop isn’t just the place for picking out new daily trainers, he says. They can also help you find the best work shoe. “It’s important to visit a running specialty shoe store or talk to a healthcare professional with running expertise to determine the need for your individual foot type,” he says. And don’t forget to replace your work shoes at least once a year.

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But one of the best practices for runners who are constantly on their feet is to work on foot strengthening. Watson says to aim to do strengthening exercises about three or four days a week. “When starting to strengthen the muscle of the foot, it is important not to get frustrated and not to give up,” he says. “We spend most of our lives in shoes, so there can be difficulty developing the mind-body connection between you and your toes.”

Some exercises include:

  • With feet flat on ground, try to lift only your big toe off the ground. Repeat 10 times. Then try to lift all toes except your big toe. Repeat 10 times. Repeat three sets of 10.
  • Try picking up marbles from the ground by curling your toes. Pick up one marble at a time and fill a small cup. Repeat with other foot.
  • With feet flat on floor, try to spread your toes apart without allowing them to lift off floor. You can use your hands. Then use a pedicure spacer and work on squeezing your toes together without allowing the toes to curl. Repeat three sets of 10 each.
  • Use a tennis ball or frozen water bottle to massage the muscles in your arch.

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