Foot Health for Tennis, Baseball and Softball
Warmer weather and longer days shift our attention to outdoor activities and sports. These put rigorous demands on the feet, especially the skin and soft tissues. As a result, you might find yourself nursing a blister or other foot condition from engaging in such sports as tennis, softball and baseball.
These activities present particular challenges for your feet due to the movements they require. Proper conditioning and the best possible foot health are important for you to enjoy participating. Conditioning for these activities involves several primary types: flexibility, leg strength, joint stability (which typically is a result of leg strength and flexibility), core strength, and aerobic conditioning (endurance). Protecting the skin and soft tissues of the feet with appropriate, properly fitted footwear can help you prevent injuries and nagging conditions that can negatively affect your performance.
Five primary foot movements in tennis put an extraordinary amount of stress on the feet, setting the stage for soft tissue damage:
- Short sprints (typically less than 10 – 15 feet in distance) produce shear stress that can lead to blistering and damage to the fat pads.
- Short jumps and hops such as the split step and drop step produce impact and shear stress, resulting in potential trauma to the feet, including stress fractures, bruising, blistering and forefoot pain.
- Lateral movements such as shuffle steps, slides, crossover steps and sideways sprints produce the potential for strains and sprains, shear stress on feet and skin/soft tissue trauma.
- Pivots and rapid directional changes such as crossovers and recoveries increase shear stress on the feet and may produce soft tissue trauma and increase the risk of strains and sprains.
- Lunging / extending produces strong impact on the forefoot and heel, shear stress on soft tissues, trauma to the feet and potential muscle strains.
The surface on which you play influences the amount of stress on the feet, and also plays a role in soft tissue injuries. Grass and clay tend to yield, and therefore are much easier on the feet and legs than hard surfaces. The latter, which are more likely to be found on public courts, produce more foot and leg stress. Regardless of the surface you play on, make sure you are in the best possible shape overall. Tennis can be hard on the entire body, so get yourself into good playing condition before you start. Click here to see the USTA's suggestions for tennis conditioning exercises.
Tips for Choosing Tennis Footwear
- Choose tennis footwear that is appropriate for the surface on which you will be playing (clay, grass, synthetic, and paved or hard composition surfaces are the most common).
- If you have had previous ankle injuries or are inclined to twist or sprain your ankles, choose shoes with good ankle support.
- Wear only properly selected and fitted, as part of an integrated approach, padded socks with your shoes, and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional.
Baseball and Softball
The cleated shoes that are typically worn for baseball and softball present special problems for the soft tissue of the feet. They have stiff outer soles, and are designed to grip the playing surface and provide stability in running, moving laterally, and making quick stops and starts. If they’re not properly fitted, and your feet are cramped or slide around in your shoes, blisters and other lesions may occur.
Follow the integrated approach to fitting your padded socks, shoes and any inserts or orthotics. Your feet should feel comfortable immediately; don’t expect an ill-fitting shoe to feel better after it’s “broken in.” Cleated shoes typically fit snugly, so be sure to allow for sufficient room in the shoes when getting fitted. Click here to get printable instructions for getting a proper fit using the integrated approach.