Foot injuries and how to prevent them

What are the most common foot injuries people face in daily life?

Two of the most common foot injuries people face in daily life are Achilles Tendinopathy (pain in the tendon that connects the back of the foot to the calf muscle) and Plantar Fasciitis (pain in the underside of the foot).

What are some of the causes? Who is most susceptible?

These pains are often caused by exercising too much or wearing shoes that are too tight. Both are a particularly common complaints in runners and are types of repetitive strain injuries. I often see these sorts of injuries in patients who have suddenly upped their activity levels rather than increasing gradually.

Plantar Fasciitis is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the connective tissue that stretches from your heel to your toes. The pain is usually worse in the morning and can feel like a dull ache or bruise. 

You will usually be able to ease the pain yourself, however it’s recommended you see a medical specialist if the pain does not improve within 2 weeks. They will likely recommend resting your foot on a raised surface when possible, and using an ice pack on the painful area for up to 20 minutes every two to three hours. They may also recommend wearing wide, comfortable shoes and soft insoles.

Achilles Tendinopathy is caused by repeated tiny injuries to the Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of your lower leg to your heel. This can cause pain or stiffness and sometimes swelling, making it hard for you to move freely.  

This damage can get gradually worse over time. Achilles Tendinopathy often affects those who do activities that involve running and jumping, however it can happen to anyone.

The most important thing you can do if you suspect you have Achilles Tendinopathy is to rest the tendon. You may also wish to apply cold packs to ease the pain and reduce any swelling.

If your symptoms don’t ease after around a week, book an appointment with your GP or orthopaedic specialist. They may ask you about your symptoms and examine your leg, heel and ankle, as well as asking you to do a series of movements. 

If you have an underlying condition, for example diabetes or arthritis, your GP may refer you to a specialist doctor, and if your symptoms are very bad, or have lasted longer than six weeks, you may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in foot and ankle surgery. 

What are some key tips for preventing foot injuries, especially in the course of running or doing sports? 

To prevent foot injuries, be sure to warm up prior to doing any sports activity and maintain good form when exercising.  Rest and recovery should also be important factors in your training plan, along with strength and conditioning exercises.

It’s also important to wear the correct trainers for your feet, and replace these regularly, when the tread starts to wear out on them.

How important are the right shoes and why? What are some giveaway signs you may be wearing the wrong shoes?

Wearing the right shoes is more important than many realise. Don’t be tempted to buy a pair of trainers based on what they look like. It is far better to select trainers based on your feet and the way you run.  Having a gait analysis carried out at a reputable clinic or sports shop will help you buy the right sort of footwear.

Giveaway signs you may be wearing the wrong shoes include feeling like your shoes are too tight or are rubbing and giving you blisters.   In addition, wearing the wrong shoes may result in overpronation. This is when the outer edge of your heel hits the ground first, and then your foot rolls inward onto the arch. This puts a strain on muscles, ligaments and tendons and you may be at higher risk of developing injuries such as Achilles Tendinopathy and Plantar Fasciitis.

What are the signs you need to back off from exercise and / or seek medical attention?

Regular training sessions and long-distance running can have a cumulative negative impact on the body. If you’re injured, and still continue to run, you could risk making your injury worse.

Pay attention to any small niggles, which can build up to a much larger, more impactful injury. If you experience foot pain during a sport, stop the activity or modify it until the pain subsides.

If you’ve sustained a running injury, getting an expert medical diagnosis is important for your recovery and future training, and speaking to your GP is a good first step.