Foot Health for Running
Regular Foot Care
Good foot hygiene—including daily foot care, toenail care and daily visual inspections—is important for runners. As noted earlier, blisters and sore, achy feet are common among both recreational and serious runners. According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS), runners also are vulnerable to the following overuse injuries: heel pain (plantar fasciitis), Achilles tendonitis, sesamoiditis, neuroma, capsulitis of the second toe, stress fractures, and posterior tibial tendonitis. If you suspect you have an injury related to running, consult your physician, a podiatrist, or other foot health professional.
Different surfaces have different effects on the feet and the rest of the body. There are positives and negatives associated with all types of surfaces, and very few clinical studies have been done on the relationship between running surfaces and injuries. A recent study showed an association between plantar heel pain and running on a “tartan” surface (i.e., an all-weather track made primarily of polyurethane). But recent reviews of studies of multiple risk factors for running injuries have not found any strong relationships between type of surface and running-related injuries (Saragiotto, et. al. in 2014, and Van der Worp, et.al. in 2015). Therefore, most of the advice about running surfaces comes from knowledge about ground reaction forces and the physical interchange between the feet and the running surface. Ground reaction force is defined based on Newton’s Third Law of motion— i.e., “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Ground reaction force is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the force that the body exerts on a surface through the feet. (see the IPFH white paper New Treatment Modalities for the Human Foot for more on how the human foot is designed to interact with the surfaces on which we run and walk).
Running surface directly affects the magnitude of the ground reaction forces. Harder surfaces such as asphalt or concrete have higher coefficients of restitution (they don't "give" as much), therefore the body must absorb most of the energy and force. Softer surfaces such as dirt or grass have lower coefficients of restitution, and absorb more energy so that the body doesn't have to absorb as much. But there is a tradeoff: Harder surfaces provide better traction and usually promote faster times, while softer surfaces shift more, reduce traction and require more muscle action. This may lead to slower times, possibly more muscle use and subsequent soreness. Selecting a running surface thus becomes primarily an individual choice, although physicians and trainers may advise runners to run on a variety of surfaces so as not to put too much repetitive strain on the body.
Many trainers also advise runners to vary their running routine (not just the pace, distance, surfaces and shoes) by integrating cross training, including strength and flexibility and other aerobic activities such as swimming, hiking, and cycling. These additional activities help build strength and flexibility in muscles not used in running, and help prevent injury by correcting muscular imbalances. Variety also helps prevent boredom and burnout.