Stege's Podiatric Topics - Sports

Running and Your Feet

Nowhere is the miracle of the foot more clear than watching the human body in motion. The combination of 26 bones, 33 joints, 112 ligaments, and a network of tendons, nerves, and blood vessels all work together to establish the graceful synergy involved in running. The balance, support, and propulsion of a jogger's body all depend on the foot.

Conditioning through running and jogging works wonders for the body. It controls weight, reduces blood pressure, and even fights off stress and depression. But before entering a fitness regimen that include jogging, don't forget to make certain your body's connection with the ground is in proper working order.

Running and Your Feet

It is a good idea for a beginning jogger to visit a podiatrist before getting an exercise program started. Your podiatrist will examine your feet and identify potential problems, discuss conditioning, prescribe an orthotic device that fits into a running shoe (if needed), and recommend the best style of footwear for your feet.

Frequent joggers ought to see a podiatrist regularly, to check for any potential stress on the lower extremities. During a 10-mile run, the feet make 15,000 strikes, at a force three to four times body weight.

If you are more than 40 years old, see a family doctor before starting any exercise regimen. The doctor will perform an electrocardiogram, check for any breathing problems, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure before giving the go-ahead for a vigorous exercise program.

Anyone, regardless of age, should check with a doctor if a cardiac condition, weight problem, or other medical complication already exists. Running asks a lot of your body, so make sure your body's ready to run.

The Importance of Stretching


Before beginning an exercise regimen, proper stretching is essential. If muscles are properly warmed up, the strain on muscles, tendons, and joints is reduced. Many experienced runners prefer to jog easily for a half-mile or so before stopping to stretch. After a run, repeating the same stretching process allows the body to cool down and reduces muscle stiffening the next day.

Warm-up and cool-down exercises should take 5-10 minutes, and ought to be conducted in a stretch/hold/relax pattern without any bouncing or pulling. It is important to stretch the propulsion muscles in the back of the leg and thigh (posterior), and not forget the anterior muscles.

Some effective stretching exercises include:

The wall push-up. Face a wall from three feet away, with feet flat on the floor, and knees locked. Lean into the wall, keeping feet on the floor and hold for 10 seconds as the calf muscle stretches, then relax. Do not bounce. Repeat five times.

The hamstring stretch. Put your foot, with knee straight, locked, on a chair or table. Keep the other leg straight with knee locked. Lower your head toward the knee until the muscles are tight. Hold to a count of 10 then relax. Repeat five times, then switch to the other leg.

Lower back stretch. In a standing position, keep both legs straight, feet spread slightly. Bend over at the waist and attempt to touch the palms of your hands to the floor. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Proper Footwear


A good pair of running shoes is the most important piece of equipment a jogger needs. Shoe choice should be determined by weight, foot structure, and running regimen. Keep in mind that all shoes have a different shape, and sizes are not uniform from shoe to shoe.

Consider whether an orthotic device will be placed in your shoe, and whether your running style is flat-footed or on the balls of the feet. Shoes should provide cushioning for shock absorption, and ought to be able to fully bend at the ball of the foot area. Visit the shoe store in the afternoon, when the feet are slightly swollen, and wear thick running socks when trying shoes on.

Shoes fit properly if the heel is snug and does not slide, and there is a thumb's width between the longest toe and the tip of the toe box. You should be able to wiggle the toes. Always try on both shoes, fully laced. Stand and walk around the store. If it doesn't feel good in the store, it won't in training, either.

Training Tips


Systematic exercises must progress slowly from easy to rigorous to prevent debilitating muscle strain or more serious injury. The best and safest way to start a running program is with a five-day-per-week conditioning program for 12-16 weeks.

Begin with two sets of two-minute jogs interspersed with five minutes of fast walking. If muscles are stiff, walk only; have an "easy day" if you're in pain. As the weeks progress, gradually increase the number of minutes jogged per set to 20 minutes. Spend at least five workouts at each new level attained.

By the 16th week, you should be able to run two sets of 20 minutes each, with a five-minute walk before, between, and after. Make adjustments for heat and altitude, and don't be frustrated if you think the pace is too slow. Remember, a disciplined regimen will decrease your chances of injury.

When running, lean forward slightly at the waist to develop a smooth, even stride and full chest expansion. Your stride should be about equal to your height. Feet should touch the ground with the weight toward the rear, either in heel-toe motion or flat-footed.

Do not land on the toes. This works against the natural lever action of the foot and may lead to injury. Do not slap your feet on the ground. Follow through on your stride so the foot lands without jarring the body. As the foot lands, your center of gravity should be over or slightly ahead of the foot.

Carry your arms at a right angle, and do not let them cross in front of your body. Relax your wrists, but carry hands straight with thumbs up. Breathe from the belly, through the mouth.

The ideal running surface is a cinder track or soft-surface running path. Running on asphalt, though a hard surface, is preferable to grass, which usually has more gullies, rocks, and other hazards that could cause serious injury to the foot and ankle.

Proper foot hygiene can also prevent injuries. Keeping feet powdered and dry is important, especially to the jogger suffering from blisters. Blisters can be prevented by application of petroleum jelly or creams to the feet where they occur.

If you get a blister, opening it with a sterile needle, then soaking the foot in warm water and covering it with antibiotic ointment and a bandage will help it heal quickly. Do not remove the "roof" of the blister.

Aches and Pains of Running


Even with the best preparation, aches and pains are an inevitable result of a new jogging regimen. If the pain subsides with slow easy exercise, you may continue, but if it gets worse, rest. If it persists, see your podiatrist.

The most common pain associated with jogging is known as runner's knee, a catch-all for jogging-related knee pain. One of the most common causes of runner's knee is excessive pronation of the foot. (Normal pronation, involving the rolling in and down of the foot as weight is transferred from the outer heel to the ball of the foot during walking or running, is necessary for shock absorption. But a normal pronation pattern can be changed by tightness of the heel cord or running on angulated surfaces.)

Orthoses prescribed by your podiatrist are the best way to alleviate excessive pronation. Occasionally, rubber pads in the arch of the shoe will help.

Achilles tendinitis, sometimes caused by an excessively tight tendon and/or excessive pronation, also commonly strikes the jogger. Adequate flexing and stretching of the calf muscle will usually prevent the condition, which left untreated will cause chronic thickening and inflammation of the tendon.

Shin splints, which painfully appear at the front and inside of the leg, are caused by running on hard surfaces, overstriding, muscle imbalance, or overuse. Treatment includes changing running technique or insertion of an orthotic device in the shoe.

Always Remember . . .


Some discomfort is a natural part of any jogging regimen, but serious pain will not go away and should be treated professionally. When body and feet are finally "in shape," running becomes a pleasant social encounter, and can be engaged in with others.

Most communities have running clubs that sponsor organized runs for the competition-oriented. No matter what path you take with running, chances are it will enhance your life, health, and happiness.

(c) Copyright 1996 - David C. Stege, DPM - All rights reserved.