Having healthy and strong feet is vitally important to anyone participating in weight-bearing sports. For triathletes, you pound on each foot during the run, deliver power through the pedal into the cranks on the bike and work on having flexible flippers for the swim.
If you’ve ever had foot pain, you know all too well how it affects every step and move you make during the day. With your feet, you cannot simply immobilize them or let them rest for a day or two. Many problems can occur below the ankles. From plantar fasciitis, tendinitis and bunions to the neighboring tissues in the Achilles or peroneal tendons that affect your balance. Not to mention the pain from a hammertoe, neuroma or ingrown toenail. The list could go on and on here. However, the best way to avoid most of these issues is with prevention.
Here’s how that works:
1) Strengthen your intrinsic foot musculature. Making those small specialized muscles do something. Walking on soft, uneven surfaces, and scrunching your toes up and splaying them out to grip the earth is a good start. How about picking up corks or marbles? Sounds like a good party trick.
2) Stretch your calves and plantar fascia. Use a towel or a strap and pull your foot toward your shin (pictured below) — hold at least 30 seconds and do 3 times per foot.
3) Work on your balance and ankle strength. Try standing on an air disc or BOSU ball. Really challenge your balance and try barefoot so you can use your toes. Stand on one leg for 1 minute and do 3 reps per leg. If that is too easy, try it with your arms crossed over your chest.
Once you progress, try closing your eyes or doing a single-leg deadlift or mini squat on the standing leg. If you have a balance board this would be a good time to climb on that barefoot.
4) Keep the muscles pain-free and flexible. How about a good foot massage if you are not ticklish? Really get into the arch and around the ball of the foot. Use a lacrosse ball, frozen water bottle, self-massage stick or foam roller for your feet and calves before or after a hard workout.
5) Keep your toenails trimmed, but not too short. Nicely trimmed toenails don’t just look good, they last longer. This is something that you really need to stay on top of. It would be nice to get a weekly pedicure, but at least keep your toenails trimmed every couple of weeks. Too long and they will bump into your footwear, too short and you might run the risk of having the edges grow or dig into the sides of the nail bed. Keep them nicely filed too — for your bedmate’s sake!
6) Have a good hard look at your callouses. Large, thick callouses can mean trouble. It’s your foot’s way of trying to protect itself from large forces, shear, friction or pressure. Consult a podiatrist if you are worried or notice something new, don’t wait for them to become painful before getting help (remember PREVENTION).
Now get out there and take care of your feet! Stop taking them for granted.
Looking for the right shoes for your feet? Check out Tricia's blog post on finding the right running shoe.
Tricia Davis, PT, is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling Certified Coach, wellness and injury prevention specialist and co-owner of Potential Energy Training. She is a hyperkinetic, Canadian-trained physiotherapist and athlete. Good at seeing the big picture, she is able to focus on the most important details for you to achieve success. Tricia thrives most in helping those with limited time by providing evidence-based training and skill acquisition in order to make training the most efficient way to attain goals while reducing risk of injury. Tricia is passionate about health, wellness and efficiency in sport while maintaining a balance in all aspects of life. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.