Your feet aren’t just a couple of blocks you walk around on; there are a lot of moving parts involved and they need a lot of maintenance. Think of all the bones, muscles, and connective tissue involved in pushing off when you take a step, and absorbing the impact when you land. Many running injuries – including those to the knees, hips, and back – originate from an issue with how your feet move during either of these stages. If your foot is too stiff to bear the impact when you push off, the strain can result in stress fractures. And if your foot is overly flexible and unstable, you’ll have trouble controlling how it lands, which can result in injuries.
1. Analyze Your Body Mechanics
We often don’t recognize when the muscles in our feet are stiff or tight because we don’t feel it the way we do when the same thing happens with the neck and shoulders. But for proper running or walking gait, you need full range of motion in each foot. To recognize how tight these muscles are, try rotating your ankle in a circle. You’ll feel the points at which the rotation stops or meets resistance. Another test is to stand and turn your toes inward 30 to 40 degrees. If you can’t do that, there’s stiffness in your feet and ankles.
2. Mobilize for Mobility
I recommend doing foot flexibility exercises as often as you can. With bare feet, do toe stretches by spreading your toes as far as you can, and toe curls, in which you curl your toes under. Some people practice by trying to pick up a towel with their toes. With your shoes on, you can do calf raises, pushing up on the balls of your feet as high as you can, and step stretches, which involve lowering your heels while standing on the edge of a stair step. Here are more detailed instructions from Runner’s World.
3. Work Your Way Up
When your ankles are tight, chances are your hamstrings are too. (Or vice versa.) I recommend that runners do hamstring stretches as often as possible, but do them slowly and carefully – there’s no benefit to forcing a stretch. Hip flexibility also affects your gait, so incorporate these stretches for opening the hip joints.
4. Solve Shoe Problems
One of the most common reasons for many foot problems is wearing shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out. I see a lot of people use old running shoes for walking and the gym, for example. But if they’re too worn out for running, they’re too worn out for walking, too. If you pronate (when feet turn inward), have high arches, or tend toward flat feet, you need shoes that control for this condition. And everyone needs running shoes that support the midsole and absorb impact in the right places. Make sure you know what to look for when choosing running shoes, and get fitted at a sports store where you can get a thorough gait analysis with qualified sales staff.