Put Your Best Foot Forward
Last reviewed by Faculty of Harvard Medical School on January 4, 2011
By Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H.
Does foot pain interfere with your ability to exercise? Take the right steps to protect your feet from pulled muscles, stress fractures and other foot woes. Don't let improperly fitting shoes, impaired circulation or incorrectly trimmed toenails deter you from staying active.
Steps to ensure proper-fitting shoes include:
Clip your toenails. Make sure they are not sticking out past the tips of your toes. Cut the toenails straight across to avoid developing an ingrown toenail.
Check your feet for blisters and cracks, especially if you have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease. Look between your toes for skin breakdown and athlete's foot infection.
Wear socks. Socks should have a smooth fit over the foot and not be too tight. High-moisture-absorbing acrylic socks can help to prevent blisters and keep the feet dry.
Dry your feet completely after baths and showers, particularly between the toes. Dry gently with a towel or a hair dryer on a medium heat setting.
Since poor flexibility can increase the risk of injuring feet, stretching is an important strategy for preventing foot pain. When exercising, warm up, cool down, and stretch before and after your activity.
Stretches that target specific areas of the feet can help to prevent foot pain. For example, the plantar fascia, an extension of the Achilles tendon, is a tough ligament-like sheet of tissue that extends from the heel bone to the base of the toes. The plantar fascia is highly susceptible to pain and inflammation. Try the Achilles-heel stretch to prevent injury to the plantar fascia. Stand on the bottom step of a flight of stairs, with the balls of feet on the step, lower heels until you feel a stretch in calves. Do this exercise three or four times a day, progressively holding the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Regular physical activity can improve circulation to the feet. If you have impaired circulation such as peripheral arterial disease, additional measures that may help include:
Even minor foot pain can disrupt your walking and other exercise routines. By giving your feet a few minutes of attention each day, you can prevent injury and skin breakdown.
Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital.