Warm Weather Is Here, Prepare Your Feet
By Benjamin Knabel, DPM, AACFAS
New England winters can be brutal, but we are very fortunate to be able to enjoy the warm weather months so close to the ocean. Take that from someone who grew up in the cornfields of Iowa. As the days become warmer and longer, many are itching to get back outside or to the gym to prepare their summer “beach bodies.” However, in our haste to lose the winter/holiday weight, we are not always aware of the beating our feet take with this new and sudden uptick in activity. Walking on uneven terrain, new workout classes, or pounding the treadmill suddenly puts stress on the muscles and tendons in the feet and ankles.
The most common injuries our office sees in the spring include various forms of tendinitis, stress fractures, heel/arch pain, and ankle issues. If left untreated, these injuries can lead to serious problems that can keep one out of the gym or off their feet for a long time preventing those wellness goals. Preparation is key to avoiding these problems.
Wear the Right Shoes
Tailor the shoes for the desired activity. A cross-training shoe with arch support specific to one’s foot structure is important. For example, I pronate slightly giving me a mild flatfoot; a shoe with mild/moderate arch support would be most appropriate for me. This is not an endorsement, but I have worn Asics, specific for pronation, for over 12 years. Someone with an extremely flat foot should look for “over-pronator” shoes. Those with high arches are encouraged to try out supinator or under-pronator type shoes. One’s foot structure is easily evaluated in an office visit. If trail running, hiking, or basketball are the desired activities, use shoes specific for the sport. Most cross-trainer shoes are appropriate for working out at a gym. Years ago, “minimalist” shoes, including the Vibram Five Fingers shoes, became the rage. This notion of minimal support was deemed completely flawed and resulted in many injuries. In general, a stiff soled shoe that only bends at the ball of the foot is most appropriate for all activity types.
Easy Does It
Running and working out are like skiing, beginners should take on less difficult trails until they become better conditioned and more confident. Lax physical conditioning is a primary cause of foot and ankle injuries. Make sure one’s form is adequate before advancing workouts. Workout classes typically offer an introductory course to get a new participant up to speed and to work on form. Running schedules tailored for beginner, advanced, and everything in between can easily be found online. I’ve personally used a running schedule to train for a 10K. Stretching before and after activity is very important. Many people are guilty of being lazy with stretching. As a result, they are at risk for developing new injuries like Achilles Tendinitis. Do not attempt more than your body is ready for; ease into your workout or running routine before planning long or strenuous exercise. Don’t go from zero to 100 too quickly.
Listen to Your Body
If you start hurting, take a break. Pain is your body’s warning sign that something is wrong. Serious injury risk escalates if one continues to push through pain. This is a self-perpetuating cycle where pain causes poor form, which can then cause further issues throughout one’s body. If foot or ankle pain continues even after resting, schedule a visit to our office as soon as possible. I recently had a patient that had just given birth and restarted regular workouts. She had started a powerlifting regimen and noticed some soreness in the back of her heal. She continued to push through the pain as it continued to worsen. An X-ray revealed a stress fracture of the Calcaneus (heel bone). She was placed in a cast and then a non-weight bearing walking boot for almost 10 weeks. This healed without issue and she was able to get back to her workouts after an extended delay.
Exercise is great for both the body and the mind. It is important to take precautions and be prepared in order to stay safe and healthy while being active.