Active people are prone to getting a sprained ankle, shin splint and other injuries that keep them off their feet. Here are 7 ways to prevent foot-related injuries and keep moving.
Staying active depends on having healthy feet, but how can you avoid foot injuries? "Your feet are the tools that hold up your body," says Rodney Sassi, athletic therapist and director of sport medicine services at the Montreal Alouettes. "If they're not properly maintained, it will affect your ankles, your knees, your hips and your low back." He offered these simple steps to support your feet and prevent injuries throughout the body.
1. Refresh your runners.
You should change your running shoes after you've travelled 500 to 700 kilometres in them, says Sassi. When you run in worn out shoes, chances are they aren't supporting you in all the right places. "That will make your feet sit differently and result in shin splints." Not sure if you've outrun the life of your shoes? Check the insides and the bottoms to see if they look worn down. And if you notice one side is more worn than the other, you may need to look for a shoe that is more supportive in that area.
2. Get a shoe that suits you.
Many of us don't have a perfect stride and that's OK: Different running shoes are made to deal with different step patterns. You just need to identify your personal stride. Ask a salesperson at a running store for a proper evaluation. They will watch you walk or jog on a treadmill to determine whether you pronate (step with most of your weight on the inside of your foot), supinate (step heavier on the outside of your foot) or walk with a neutral step. "Until you know that, you might be buying the wrong shoe and your foot won't be sitting properly," says Sassi. If your shoe is not quite fitting your foot, try insoles to get rid of discomfort and ensure proper support.
3. Strengthen your ankles.
Having strong feet and ankles ensures a stable base for your whole body and prevents sprains and other injuries. To work those important muscles, Sassi recommends getting a therapy exercise band made of rubber tubing. Put it around your foot and use it as resistance as you pull your foot from side to side, then use it to help draw your toes up toward your leg. Then, standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, come up onto your toes in a calf raise.
4. Ditch your ankle brace.
If you're worried about ankle injuries, a brace is not the answer. Though braces can be great for those who are recovering from injuries, they're counterproductive for those who are healthy. "When you're wearing a brace, you're weakening your muscles because your body is depending on artificial support," says Sassi. Ankle strengthening exercises offer better insurance against injury.
5. Massage your muscles.
If you're prone to foot injuries, warming up your muscles with a five- to 10-minute massage before your get active can also offer protection. Just sit down and roll a tennis ball below your foot, from the tip of your toe to the heel. "As the blood runs through your muscles and tendons, it warms them up and makes them pliable and stretchable," Sassi explains. That means your muscles are less likely to be strained. Massaging can also prevent heel spurs, which develop when muscles in the arch of the foot are too tight.
6. Check your running route.
Think about which side of your body is on which side of the road throughout your typical run. "If you're running on the right side of the road all the time, your right leg is going to be hitting the road at a lower point than your left leg, so you're off balance," says Sassi. "Most people don't realize it but there is quite a camber in our roads, so if you run the same route in the same direction every single day, eventually that will catch up to you." Whichever side is on higher ground for the first half of your run should be switched to the lower side on your way back to avoid problems down the road.
7. Cool your soles.
When you get back from a workout, help your foot muscles recover with a cool massage. Sit down and roll a frozen water bottle under your foot from heel to toe, and any muscle inflammation will be soothed by the cold.
Want more ways to move safely? Learn about five common running injuries and how to fix them, and take this test to find your best-fitting running shoes.