Foot health is incredibly important to maintain a walking program. Happy feet get more steps, but foot pain from walking can keep you from hitting your step goals. Walking is low-impact and generally easy on the body, but many people experience foot, arch, or heel pain from walking. As a walker, you’ve quickly learned how important it is to keep your feet healthy; but when you experience foot pain, your walking routine comes to a grinding halt.
Whether your injury is sudden and acute or has been building for a while, it’s important to discover the underlying cause. Foot and heel conditions don’t have to be visible to be serious. Ignoring the problem can make things worse.
Common Foot Conditions
Your feet have a large number of bones, tendons, and ligaments which allow you the necessary flexibility and balance to walk upright. In fact, there are over 20 bones and 30 joints in your feet which offer plenty of points where injuries can occur. Your feet have to support your weight all day long and act as shock absorbers for the rest of the body when you walk, run, or jump. When you consider how much pressure your feet endure when you walk 10,000 steps (or even more steps per day!), it’s not surprising that foot injuries are common among people walking for fitness.
Important note: If you’re suffering foot pain, or especially if you suffer a sudden acute injury, make sure to consult your doctor. Your doctor can diagnose your problem and offer tailored solutions. If you’re not sure if you’re injured, get checked out just in case!
If you are experiencing pain along the bottom of your foot and heel, plantar fasciitis may be to blame. Your heel and toes are connected by a thick band of tissue called the plantar fascia. When this tissue becomes inflamed or injured, the pain can interfere with your walking routine. Plantar Fasciitis pain is often worse first thing in the morning and with increased activity but can occur at any time. Arch issues can cause you to be at increased risk of plantar fasciitis.
When you bend your big toe past its normal range of motion, you’re likely to experience a painful sprain. This injury often occurs in soccer or when a player misses the ball and kicks the ground. However, if you’ve recently added jogging or inclines to your walking routine, it’s possible to suffer a toe injury from the added impact. Pain from turf toe often flares up during walking or running. Turf toe is a legitimate injury – it’s a sprain or tear of the ligaments around your toe. If you’re experiencing severe toe pain, get it checked out!
Foot conditions don’t have to occur within the bones and tendons to be seriously painful. Blisters are fluid-filled pockets that occur due to excess moisture or pressure applied to your skin. While blisters generally heal on their own over time, they can become serious when the injury isn’t cared for properly. It’s especially important for diabetics to examine both feet regularly for blisters and other skin injuries since related nerve damage can make these injuries cause less pain. Because of this, blisters can continue to get worse which can lead to serious damage. Well-fitting shoes and socks can help to prevent blisters, as well as ensuring that your feet don’t slip and chafe as you walk. Padding the area can help as well.
If your pain is located in the heel and/or foot arch, a heel spur may be the cause. A heel spur is an extra growth of calcium between the heel and arch of your foot. The condition can be caused by long-term strain to the surrounding muscles and ligaments, tight shoes, or arthritis. A heel spur requires an X-ray for proper diagnosis.
Stress fractures are small breaks in a bone, usually due to repeated stress on the area. Symptoms include “pinpoint” pain in a certain area, deep pain within your foot, or just general pain in a certain area that persists when you exercise. Stress fractures can occur due to sudden changes in exercise (or job functions if your job means stress on your feet), high-impact activities like running, or poorly fitting shoes. People with osteoporosis or structural problems with their feet are at greater risk. You’ll need an X-ray to diagnose a stress fracture, which is very important to prevent a larger break or long-term damage.
When your feet are put under constant pressure, they protect themselves by thickening skin on the toes and soles. These patches of thickened skin, called corns, are usually painless to begin with. However, over time they become painful and may feel like you are walking on sharp rocks. Soaking and moisturizing your feet can help reduce corns, and padding, as well as proper-fitting shoes and socks, can help reduce their occurrence.
Your metatarsal bones are located in the ball of your foot. When these bones experience an increased stress load, swelling and pain will follow. While this injury most commonly occurs with impact related to running or jumping, it can occur with the increased stress of a new walking routine or be caused by tight-fitting shoes. Taking a break, doing lower-impact exercises (like slower walking instead of jogging), and getting shoes with better arch support can help.
Treating Foot Pain
The good news is that the most common causes of foot pain can be easily treated to allow you to quickly return to your daily walks. It’s disappointing when you’re finally seeing results from your fitness routine only to be sidelined by pain. If you are experiencing pain and you don’t know the cause, it’s important to visit your doctor. While the conditions listed above are some of the most common, there are many other reasons you might be experiencing pain. The wrong treatment could actually worsen your condition.
As your foot condition heals, you will likely need treatments to ease pain and help you tolerate pressure on your feet. There are many ways to treat foot pain and protect your injuries from getting worse, including:
Pain caused by inflammation can be eased with an ice pack. It’s common for feet to swell in warmer weather or from prolonged standing even when injuries aren’t present. Ice or a cool foot soak can be a soothing remedy. Make sure to cover ice packs with a towel (direct ice on your body can cause tissue damage). Ice your injury for no longer than 10 minutes, and take a 10-minute rest before trying to ice it again.
A foot massage will promote circulation and flexibility in your feet. If you have blisters or other direct injuries, it may be necessary to avoid the area and massage the rest of the foot. Make sure to tell your massage therapist about your injuries, so that they don’t use too much pressure on tender areas.
OTC Pain Relievers
Inflammation and mild to moderate foot pain can be relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories in occasional cases. It’s important to note that pain relievers don’t treat your underlying symptoms. Many OTC pain relievers can have serious side effects, especially after prolonged use. If pain persists, get checked out. Additionally, topical pain relievers similar to muscle rubs can be helpful. Simply blocking the pain can lead to worse injuries as you continue to stress the injured area.
Get New Shoes
If you’re wearing shoes that are worn out or don’t fit comfortably, your feet will pay the price. Quality shoes shouldn’t be considered a splurge when they are helping you stay healthy and injury-free. Here are some tips on how to find great walking shoes.
Fix Your Posture
When you work to increase your workout time or your step count, fatigue is common and your posture can suffer. Proper posture will engage the muscles in your body and take the pressure off of your feet.
Stretch Your Feet
Yes, your feet need to stretch just like the rest of your body. In fact, since your feet are often trapped in shoes, stretching them is even more important. Different types of foot stretches can help you heal injuries or avoid them altogether.
Even if you aren’t experiencing significant pain in your feet, foot health is important and can keep you feeling great. Good foot care can help you feel energized, avoid painful conditions, and become more active.
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