It can be hard to find the time to stay active as we get older, and it seems like it just gets easier to overdo it and end up with aches or pains, or even worse—an injury. About 80 percent of Americans will deal with foot pain at some point in their lives, and many of the most common causes of foot pain are overuse injuries.
Here are some ways to keep to a fitness regimen while protecting your feet and ankles from painful wear and tear!
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
From plantar fasciitis to Achilles tendonitis, you put your body at risk whenever you suddenly ramp up your activity level. These kinds of overuse injuries are common among so-called weekend warriors. If you spend your weekdays sitting behind a desk and then hit the trail or court on the weekend, it’s easier to punish your body. Muscles and tendons that have been inactive for days at a time are suddenly stretching, flexing and working harder than ever!
You can avoid this common pitfall by adding physical activity throughout your week, and by beginning slowly when you start a new routine. If you’re going to join a weekend rec league, take some walks or work in some practice for a few weeks ahead of time. If you’re getting into running, start with shorter distances and give yourself regular days off before committing to that ambitious daily goal. It may feel like holding back, but just remember how the hare must have felt watching the tortoise cross that finish line!
Stretch and Flex
While many sources of foot pain are because of overuse, the answer is not to give your feet as much time off as possible. Long periods of inactivity can cause your muscles to weaken, along with the tendons and ligaments responsible for your movements. This makes you more likely to tear or injure something, roll an ankle, or just experience aches and pains when you exert yourself.
It is important to warm up and stretch before physical activity to avoid injury, but developing a daily stretching regimen is another great way to protect your foot health! A good starting place is stretches that strengthen the plantar fascia and surrounding areas, as plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. Towel stretches, standing stretches and others can all help develop a more resilient plantar fascia.
Choose the Right Shoes
Narrow shoes, flats, and high heels are all major culprits when it comes to foot health. Flats lack the support and cushion your body needs, while high heels put your feet at aggressive angles that strain and stress your body. And many people are feeling the pinch of tight shoes—not realizing the discomfort also puts them at greater risk for things like bunions, hammertoes and neuromas.
Too much cushion can lead to instability, though, so it’s important to find shoes that also offer support in strategic places. Those support needs can definitely vary from person to person, and by the shape of your feet. So it’s important to get your feet measured (including the width and arch length), and to determine if you have flat feet, average arches or high arches.
Picking the right shoe for the job is also crucial. Your favorite slip-ons may be great for a quick errand, but if you’re going to be hiking you need more support and structure–especially at the ankle. A pair of comfortable shoes to wear inside the house is also important, especially if you have hardwood floors. If you spend your work day supporting your feet, make sure you continue to support them when you come home instead of going barefoot.