Each day millions of Americans run for fun, sport, and fitness, and while running is a great form of physical activity, it can be hard on the lower extremities, especially the feet. During April’s Foot Health Awareness Month, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Alexandria, Va, is educating runners about the importance of proper foot health and a physical therapist’s role in preventing and treating foot injuries that may result from running.

The impact forces during running can be two to three times one’s bodyweight, making the feet particularly vulnerable to injury. Healthy feet are a runner’s best friend and understanding a running injury is a key to effective treatment. Physical therapists can provide an examination of a runner’s feet, an analysis of individual running mechanics to determine the cause of pain, and tests that may include an analysis of, strength, range of motion, sensation, and circulation.

Improper footwear often contributes to the problem. In these cases, a physical therapist may recommend specific types of shoes based on the runner’s individual needs. For example, runners with stiff feet and high arches may need more cushion in their shoes, while those with very flexible feet and low arches usually need a stiffer shoe with more support and control. For individuals with more complex problems, physical therapists may prescribe custom or over-the-counter orthotics.

Physical therapists also play an important role in helping runners prevent injuries. APTA suggests the following tips for all runners:

  • Start slowly and build up slowly— both distance and speed.
  • Address pain and discomfort as soon as it appears—with ice, rest, or by modifying your training program. Ignoring symptoms is a sure way to develop a chronic problem.
  • Choose your running surface carefully. Hard surfaces, uneven terrain, and too many hills can lead to problems. Again, build up to them slowly if these surfaces are part of your goal.
  • Consider other types of endurance exercises to give your feet a rest and to provide a better balance to your fitness routine.
  • Keep an eye on skin issues such as redness or blisters.

[Source: APTA]