Common Foot Issues That Affect Runners

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For all its health and fitness perks, running takes a toll on your feet. For every 10 miles you cover, your feet strike the ground 15,000 times—with a force 3 to 4 times your body weight.

Choosing footwear wisely, ramping up slowly, and taking time to warm up and stretch can reduce your risk of foot injuries. If you do develop pain or other signs of trouble, consult your doctor or a podiatrist. The sooner you detect these common foot conditions, the better your chances that simple options like rest, stretching and orthotics will correct them—and the faster you’ll be back on the trail, path or track.

Heel Pain

Eight in 10 cases of heel pain can be blamed on plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tough, fibrous band of tissue that connects your heels and toes. You’ll feel pain that begins in your heel bone, eventually extends across your arch, and feels worse first thing in the morning or after sitting.

Rest and ice offer immediate pain relief, while stretching your calves, Achilles tendon, and feet gives the best chance of a long-term recovery. Once you resume your routine, supportive shoes can prevent the condition from returning. 

Sesamoiditis

Your sesamoids are two small, pea-shaped bones in the ball of your foot, beneath your big toe. Increased pressure can inflame the bones themselves and the tendons surrounding them, causing a dull, lingering pain under the joint.

Padding, strapping, taping, and using custom orthotics can relieve pressure on these bones, easing symptoms. Severe cases call for crutches or a cast followed by physical therapy—or, sometimes, surgery.

Neuromas

At first, you may feel like there’s something in your shoe or that your sock has bunched up. Eventually, you feel a tingling, burning or numbness at the base of your toes. Your doctor may diagnose you with a neuroma—a compressed, irritated nerve in your foot, most often between the base of the third and fourth toe. It’s a condition called Morton’s neuroma.

Early on, ice and anti-inflammatories can ease pain and padding can reduce pressure on the nerve. You may also want to switch to wider-toed shoes. At more advanced stages, you and your doctor might consider custom orthotics or surgery. 

Achilles Tendinitis

The largest tendon in your body, the Achilles connects your calf and heel so you can run, walk and jump. Though it withstands significant strain, a sudden increase in mileage or overly tight calf muscles can stress it just a bit too far, resulting in swelling, pain and stiffness that feels worse after activity.

Surgery usually isn’t necessary—but treatment for tendinitis may take time, as long as 3 to 6 months. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medicines, and stretching and strengthening exercises calm the inflammation and reduce stress on the tendon.

Stress Fractures

Repeated pounding can tire out your foot muscles, decreasing their ability to absorb shock. As a result, small hairline cracks can form in some of the 26 delicate bones in your foot.

Most often, stress fractures occur in your second and third metatarsals—the long toe bones. But they can also form in your heel, your lower shinbone, or the bones in the top of your foot. 

Pain from stress fractures often starts gradually, increases with activity, and subsides with rest. You may also notice swelling, tenderness or bruising near the site of the break. Treatment involves rest, sometimes with a cast or protective footwear to stabilize the break.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  2. Thing J, Maruthappu M, Rogers J. Diagnosis and management of plantar fasciitis in primary care. Br J Gen Pract. 2012;62(601):443-4 

  3. Female runners at risk for painful neuromas. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. https://acfas.org/content.aspx?id=4498

  4. Morton's neuroma (intermetatarsal neuroma). American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. http://www.foothealthfacts.org/footankleinfo/mortons-neuroma.htm

  5. Plantar fasciitis. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/conditions/ailments-of-the-heel/Pages/Plantar-Fasciitis.aspx?PF=1 

  6. Runners: fit feet finish faster. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. http://www.foothealthfacts.org/Content.aspx?id=1457&terms=runners

  7. Running and your feet. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. http://www.aapsm.org/running.html

  8. Sesamoid injuries in the foot. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. http://www.foothealthfacts.org/footankleinfo/Sesamoid_Injuries.htm?terms=sesamoid

  9. Stress fractures of the foot and ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00379