If you are like many hard chargers out there, you will at times push yourself to “uncomfortable” new levels, some of which will leave lingering reminders that you are in uncharted territory. One of the results for many is sore feet. Whether from running more miles than your body is currently comfortable with, or changing to a new shoe line. So, who can experience this problematic symptom and what does it mean? Well, triathletes, cyclist, runners, weight lifters… the list can go on. Essentially, your feet are taking on a bigger load than they have previously been accustomed to. Just like lifting more weights than usual, your muscles become sore and lactic acid settles into your muscle tissue creating the sensation of fatigue and soreness. Your feet are no different; most of us in the Western Hemisphere exist in a world of cushioned foot protection and barriers to allowing our feet to function at their normal operating levels.
I have extremely flat feet, so flat in fact that I had to sign a waiver to join the Marine Corps. Yes, they actually still require the paper signature; it’s not an old Hollywood script line. Why do they require this? It’s well known even to an organization as slow adopting as the military that an arch is pretty important to protecting your body when carrying a load or traveling long distances. So what? What does this have to do with you? Well, how about weight lifting? Heavy load on your feet? Endurance athletes “tend” to travel long distances. So what happens here is that the foot is unable to take the impact of the foot strike and the effect is that a repeated shock travels up your leg to your knees, hips, and back all the way to your head and out your body. Over a period of time which varies for everyone, your body sends in reinforcements and protects itself in several ways. Fluid in the knees to protect and cushion the impact of the joints, pain in the feet to tell you to “STOP” what you are doing. Adjusting your hip to compensate and allow the other half of the body to take on the majority of the load. I can go on, but the end result is a zig zag effect throughout your body. Ever have a sore foot, tight calf, and then your opposite hip is in pain? That’s the zig zag effect. Ok, back to the sore feet.
(Disclosure: I am currently sponsored by AVIA shoes http://avia.com/)
Shoes have evolved from the basic sandal to complex basketball shoe. There are two rules of thought circulating today, barefoot runners and protective supporting shoes. According to some, your foot pain is a result of you over protecting your feet. MacDougall explains. “The foot is the greatest disciplinarian. You can’t over-pronate, can’t over-train, can’t over-stride … if you do anything wrong, the foot will tell you `uh uh, don’t do that’. Shoes are like morphine: a sedative that deadens the pain.” (http://www.barefootrunner.com/2009/07/baring-your-sole/) Popular sport shoe companies will tell you that your born foot flaws will never develop to the perfect foot. Example, I am flat footed and my feet will never develop a proper arch to absorb the shock impact of hundreds of miles consistently received in a single pair of shoes. Therefore, protect and adapt. If you’re interested in barefoot running, I suggest doing more research as there is a ton of information available. http://www.barefootrunner.com/ Supporters of barefoot running will say that for centuries we didn’t have running shoes and yet we somehow did ok. I would have loved to seen Roman warriors in a pair of running shoes! Yet I digress. Allowing your foot muscles to work all the fibers, both major and minor, your feet become stronger and naturally adapt. I can accept this for some people, but the reality is, not everyone has the patience or time to build up to this approach over several months. Also, not everyone is successful even after giving it the proper slow build.
I have friends that have gone the natural route (and are flat footed) and over a SLOW building process are achieving stronger feet without pain. I simply don’t have the time to test this theory at the moment as my sponsors would not be happy with a negative end result of “sorry I can’t run because my experiment went awry”. That being said, ALL of them are in reality combination runners. In other words, they use both types of shoes depending on the situation. In my history, I developed serious problems when in the service due to improper foot attire. Military boots back in my day did not accomodate for imperfect feet. I was told I could never run again. Shortly thereafter, I went to the University of Michigan and they told me my problems were simply from flat feet. I met my coach and he said that it wasn’t a factor to prevent me from running marathons. Twenty some-odd years later and I have completed many endurance races including Ironman distances! (www.REV3tri.com) So, whether you subscribe to either theory, the greatest news is that both CAN work for you. Before you go stepping into uncharted territory with barefoot running, do your research. Before you go picking out the most expensive and coolest looking shoe on the shelf, go to a qualified store and get a proper fitting. For more information on this see my prior posting on Picking the Proper Running Shoe: http://fncec.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/picking-the-proper-running-shoe/) Ever notice in the spring/early summer how you first go barefoot and the feet are Uber-sensitive to every step and pebble. Yet, a few weeks later you can walk over all kinds of stones without wincing. So, I would bet that a combination of strong feet and the right shoe is a great formula for success!
Believe it or not, the sole of the shoe DOES make a difference. There are normal, over pronated, and under pronated feet in the world. To ensure you have the right shoes, understand what each model was designed for. For example, (generalizing here folks) Nike are worn by many normal foot runners, Avia have many natural solutions, Brooks are known for flat footed runners, etc.
Second, shoes wear out even though they still look pretty, which is another issue entirely (why are your shoes still pretty? They should be dirty… kidding… well mostly). I can get a little over 400 miles on Avia brands. How do I know? I track my miles and when my feet get sore or my knees begin giving me feedback, I know either I have developed a problem or my shoes are at the end of life cycle. Over several pairs of shoes in the same model, I have identified how many miles I can get on that shoe. Yes, my shoes will very often still look wonderful, but that doesn’t mean they are still healthy to use. Dump ’em and get a new pair!
If I had to gamble on why so many people have sore feet or issues, I would bet the majority of the time is because they are either in the wrong shoe, or the shoes are beyond their life capacity!
This is probably the next in the line of foot issues. People frankly just don’t stretch enough and this includes the foot. Yoga is a great solution to stretching out your feet and whole body. There are several exercises you can attempt. The important key to remember is that it’s not just about the single muscle area to stretch, you need to stretch the supporting areas as well. That means your Achilles tendon, calf, hamstring, etc. If you don’t stretch, you are begging for Plantar Fasciitis to develop. That’s basically foot pain from the heel to the mid-sole. For flat footed people the opposite often develops, from the toe to the mid-sole. Roll a tennis ball over your feet several times a day. If you hear or feel crunchy stuff in your feet, you definitely are not stretching enough. Which leads me to the next level, therapy.
IMPORTANT: These stretching exercises should not cause pain, but rather a pulling feeling. Try to do each exercise 2 or 3 times during the day; not necessarily all in one sitting.
Heel pain exercises: before getting out of bed
Plantar Fasciitis causes many people to experience intense heel pain in the morning, when taking the first steps after getting out of bed. This pain comes from the tightening of the plantar fascia that occurs during sleep. Stretching or massaging the plantar fascia before standing up will help reduce heel pain.
1) Before sitting up, Stretch your foot by flexing it up and down 10 times.
2) While seated, roll a rolling pin or tennis ball with the arch of your foot. If you are able to, progress to doing this exercise while you are standing up.
After these exercises, put on your shoes (with orthotics inside them) or wear supportive sandals. Do not start the day walking barefoot on hard floors or tiles, or your heel pain will return.
Heel pain relief exercises: during the day
Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at about eye level. Put the leg you want to stretch about a step behind your other leg.Keeping your back heel on the floor, bend your front knee until you feel a stretch in the back leg.
Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat 4 times.
Achilles Tendon Stretch
Stand on a step as shown. Slowly let your heels down over the edge of the step as you relax your calf muscles.
Hold the stretch for about 15 to 20 seconds, then tighten your calf muscle a little to bring your heel back up to the level of the step. Repeat 4 times.
Extend one leg in front of you with the foot flexed. Bend your other knee and lean back slightly. Your pelvis should be tilted forward. Keep your upper body upright as you hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds, then switch sides.
You should feel the stretch up the back of your extended leg (all the way up your calf and thigh).
Place marbles on the floor next to a cup, as shown. Using your toes, try to lift the marbles up from the floor and deposit them in the cup. Repeat exercise 15 times.
Grab a rolled towel at both ends, holding it under the ball of your foot. Gently pull the towel toward you while keeping your knee straight. Hold this for 5 seconds, release for 10 and repeat for 2 minute sequence.
Another suggestion is active recovery techniques. (Disclaimer: Sponsored by Recovery Pump www.recoverypump.com) For many people the foot pain is merely a symptom of issues occurring further up the leg. Pushing the lactic acid out and bringing in the good nutrients through massage and compression techniques helps me recover my legs up to 90% after a grueling event or training program. I can’t say enough about these types of solutions, they allow me simply to perform at levels that I otherwise would take several days to recover from. If you attend any REV3 or Ironman events, look for Recovery Pump booths and try them out. There is a reason the Pro’s use these types of solutions. From the NBA to Ironman competition, the pro’s are using these devices because they cut your recovery anywhere from 25% to 85%. To better understand Active Recovery vs. Passive Recovery see the following .
I am not qualified to tell you when you need physical therapy (PT). When in doubt, see your family physician and let her determine if a referral is necessary. I have been in and out of PT many times over the years because I simply didn’t take my own advice of stretching enough. Plain and simple, that’s what lands me in the doctor’s office every time. Choose your physical therapist wisely, get referrals, talk to the physician about their technique applied and what to expect. Make sure it matches your expectations and your ability to commit to the work. Yes, you WILL have homework and be expected to complete exercises and stretches between visits. My last visit was over 1 ½ years ago and I doubt I will be back, only because I hope I learned my lesson to STRETCH! I have been subject to the Graston Technique ) and it worked well for me. I have seen specialist sports therapy doctors who have worked miracles as well. I also have had the privilege of working with Olympic physical therapy coaches and they are unbelievable. Each one requires patience and time to heal properly. If you end up here, don’t expect to complete the program in one or two sessions.
When in doubt, see your doctor and let them make the professional diagnosis. Whatever you do, don’t put it off and make it worse. There’s nothing worse than the person who “sucks it up” to only make the matter worse and end up with a lifelong chronic problem. If you watch the professional triathlete, if there is a problem that is other than mental pain, they walk away from the race. Better to walk away from one race in order to come back again, then to lose an entire season because you thought you could “tough it out”! You may have developed an injury or have plantar warts, bunions, hammer toes, bone spurs, any number of issues that are chronic. If this is the case, the doctor can offer a solution, which may point you back to physical therapy.
Use your own judgment however when you do face a situation of a doctor providing a recommendation. I have faced doctors who were Podiatrist (foot specialist) and surgeons on top of that. What’s the quote “A carpenter sees a hammer as the solution to every nail problem”, well guess what a specialist solution is to many of their clients issues? I was told that my foot issues were chronic and that “we” needed surgery to “CUT” the nerves and “FIX” the problem. REALLY DOC? Needless to say, I got a second opinion in which the other doctor (who advises US Olympic doctors) said they have seen many clients go through the procedure only to end up at their office with the problem still existing. Why? Well, in my case it was just masking the pain, not relieving the real issue, lack of stretching! A combination of sports therapy, Chiropractic care (see prior posting on massage and Chiropractic care:http://fncec.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/massage-therapy-chiropractic-care/) got me back on my feet! Let’s just say you have bigger problems at this point and they are not going away quickly, get help!
To keep you on your feet and out of the doctor’s office, build your program strength slowly. There are many free and paid coaching plans available today to ensure you make your gains safely. For running, I love Hal Higdon and it’s free (http://www.halhigdon.com/). For multi-sports, try either TrainingPeaks.com or Active.com for several solutions, some paid, some free. I used Gale Bernhardt for my Ironman. Best bet is to visit your local library and use those tax dollars you keep sending to Uncle Sam.
Finally, rest those bad boys! You may just need a break in order for your feet to recover properly. Borrowed from eHow (http://www.ehow.com/how_2365203_soothe-sore-feet.html)
- Soak your feet. Soaking your feet is a great way to relax all the muscles and ligaments in them and using Epsom salts increases the health benefits. Epsom salt is natures wonder drug, removing the bodies toxins, reducing swelling and even sedating the nervous system. Fill a large bowl or your bath tub with warm water. Add Epsom salts and olive oil and mix the ingredients with your foot until the salt is dissolved. Soak your feet for 15 minutes. Remove from water and pat dry.
- Massage your feet. There are a million nerves and pressure points in your feet that when gently massaged will send signals to your brain that help you to relax. Using lotion, gently rub your arches and the pads of your feet in a circular motion and stretch your toes by wedging your finger between them.
- Massage your legs. Rubbing your calves and thighs will also help to increase blood circulation. All the parts of the body are linked together in an intricate web, so by rubbing these stems that link directly to your feet, you’ll ultimately stimulate your feet as well.
- Elevate Your Feet. Sore feet can be caused by many reasons and it isn’t necessarily because of irregular use or abuse. In order to soothe your feet after a long day of standing or walking, elevate them so that they are above your heart. When you’re on your feet all day, they will swell and bloat, so by elevating them you’ll increase blood circulation and reduce swelling. Sit on the couch with your feet on pillows that are stacked on your coffee table or lay in bed and elevate your feet there instead.
- Wear proper footwear. If you suffer from chronic foot pain, it may because you are wearing improper footwear. Make sure that your shoes aren’t too tight or too loose. Feet will swell as the day progresses, so if your shoes feel tight in the morning, they’ll be way to tight in the afternoon. If your shoes are too tight, they will cause your feet to slide, banging into the sides and toe cap of your shoes and can cause blisters and sores from the constant rubbing.
- Purchase insoles. Nowadays, there are many options when it comes to insoles, arch supports and cushions. You can buy a variety of foot supports in the drug store, but for chronic foot pain, visit a podiatrist and have your arch supports specially made. For women who enjoy wearing heels, companies have begun to make insoles that are specially designed for women’s fashion footwear, including sandals and stilettos.
- Prevent sore feet. If you know that you’re susceptible to sore feet, prepare for days when you’ll be on your feet a lot, like a long work day or vacations where you’ll be doing excessive walking, by wearing your most comfortable footwear. Take a small dose of a mild pain reliever in the morning before you head out.
- Prepare for hot summer days. In the summer, our feet are up against the elements when it comes to foot discomfort. Extreme temperatures and humidity can cause even the toughest feet to get irritated. When wearing open-air shoes like sandals and flip flops, powder your feet with a talcum or baby powder or swipe deodorant across your soles before slipping on your shoes. This will create a barrier between the heat and sweat and will help to prevent irritation, excessive rubbing and blisters.
- Treat sores. If you do get blisters and cuts, treat them immediately with proper first aide. Open wounds need to be disinfected and blisters should be covered with second skin and/or bandages. Foot sores may start out minor, but if ignored can turn into serious infections.