Common Foot Problems Experienced by Runners — and What to do About Them

May 29, 2019 8:20:48 AM / by Voyage Healthcare Team posted in Health Tips

Do your feet hurt during or after you go for a run? Do you have pain in your arch, on your toes, heel, side of the foot, toenails, or the bottom of your foot?

If so, you’re not alone.

Foot pain is a common issue in both novice and advanced runners. In fact, it’s so common that runners typically develop one injury every year. And, it’s really no surprise—runners put their feet through a lot!

Pair of tennis shoes

What causes foot pain in runners?

There are many different reasons why a runner may experience foot pain or develop issues post run. While some foot pain is caused by injury, other pain can be attributed to running form or inadequate footwear. Whether you are suffering due to excessive mileage, over-rotation of your foot (over-pronation), poor gait, weakened hip strength, or improper footwear, there are often solutions that can reduce or even eliminate your symptoms.

As feet come in all shapes and sizes, each runner may develop different symptoms depending on their unique body type and exercise style. Here we dive into the top six most common foot-related conditions that runners may experience:
  1. Plantar fasciitis
  2. Metatarsalgia
  3. Fat pad syndrome
  4. Posterior compartment syndrome
  5. Stress fracture
  6. Runner’s knee

1. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissues that connect your heel to your toes. As plantar fasciitis develops slowly over time, it can produce severe pain in the arch of your foot.

Causes and symptoms of plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis occurs when damage happens to the plantar fascia  through excessive force or stress while running.

Common causes of plantar fasciitis include:
  • Straining caused by overuse or overextension
  • Excessive running or walking
  • Footwear with poor support
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:
  • Arch pain
  • Heel pain
  • A stabbing sensation in the arch of your foot
  • Tightness in the foot after long periods sitting or standing

Treatment for plantar fasciitis

Treatment for plantar fasciitis includes plans for pain management and physical therapy techniques.

Pain management for plantar fasciitis

Managing the pain caused by plantar fasciitis is possible, and treatments for pain management can include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve, Motrin, Advil, etc.
  • Stretching
  • Icing
Physical therapy

Physical therapy is an excellent treatment option for plantar fasciitis. There are two types of PT that you can do: local stabilization and global stabilization.

How do you prevent plantar fasciitis?

Strengthening your plantar fascia can help prevent plantar fasciitis. Speak with a podiatrist about types of exercises to do to reduce your risk.

2. Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia is an irritation of the tissues or muscles surrounding any of the five long bones of the foot. The areas covering or surrounding the metatarsals can become irritated and inflamed after running.

Causes and symptoms of metatarsalgia

The cause of metatarsalgia is excessive contact with the ground when running. Improper contact with the ground can break down the bone and irritate the metatarsals.

Common causes of metatarsalgia include:
  • Poor fitting shoes
  • High impact sports such as running
  • The shape of the foot and toes
  • Tight or weak muscles in the foot
Symptoms of metatarsalgia include:
  • Stabbing pain in the arch of the foot
  • Pain in the ball of your foot
  • Pain when you flex your foot
  • Numbness or tingling in your toes
  • Difficulty walking after running long distances

Treatment for metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia should be treated as if it is a fracture of the bone.

Treatment for metatarsalgia can include:
  • Rest, ice, and compression
  • Limiting activities that cause pain
  • Gradual reintroduction of stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Substituting swimming or cycling into your workout instead of running
  • Surgery, if deemed necessary by your podiatrist
How do you prevent metatarsalgia?

To prevent metatarsalgia, you should wear properly fitting shoes, rest your feet, and ice the affected area. Furthermore, consult with a podiatrist about other prevention techniques to help avoid metatarsalgia.

3. Fat pad syndrome

Fat pad syndrome is similar to plantar fasciitis but the pain centers solely around the middle of the heel. The fat pad acts as a cushion to your heel and helps absorb the shock caused by walking, running, and jumping.

Causes and symptoms of fat pad syndrome

Fat pad syndrome can develop from overuse or strain from running.

Common causes of fat pad syndrome include:
  • Improper gait
  • Inflammation of the fat pad
  • Walking or running on hard surfaces
  • Plantar fasciitis
Symptoms of fat pad syndrome include:
  • Feeling a bruise in your heel
  • Difficulty walking on hard surfaces due to severe pain
  • Tenderness when pressing on the heel

Treatment for fat pad syndrome

Stabilizing the heel is one of the best treatment options for fat pad syndrome.

Other treatment options for fat pad syndrome include:
  • Heel cups
  • Taping your heel
  • Padding in shoes
  • NSAIDs
  • Massage therapy
How do you prevent fat pad syndrome?

You can prevent fat pad syndrome by wearing properly fitting shoes while running that have an additional cushion in the heel. It’s not advised to walk or run bare-footed as you can expose your heel to damage. Speak with a podiatrist about other ways you can avoid getting this painful foot disorder.

4. Posterior compartment syndrome

Posterior compartment syndrome is a condition where pressure builds within the muscle compartments. This pressure decreases blood flow to the muscles and prevents oxygen from reaching the nerves and cells which can cause damage.

Causes and symptoms of posterior compartment syndrome

The pressure from posterior compartment syndrome can be caused by swelling or bleeding which can lead to nerve and cell damage if not treated.

Posterior compartment syndrome can be either acute or chronic:

Acute posterior compartment syndrome

Acute posterior compartment syndrome is a medical emergency that usually develops after a severe injury. Seek medical advice right away if you think you may have acute posterior compartment syndrome.

Chronic posterior compartment syndrome

Chronic posterior compartment syndrome is not a medical emergency. However, it is often caused by overexertion during athletic activities such as running.

Symptoms of posterior compartment syndrome include:
  • Pain in your calf
  • Pain in your tibia (similar to shin splints)
  • Feeling tightness or pressure in your calf
  • Lumps or bumps inside the shin
  • Tenderness inside the shin
  • Numbness in your foot or calf while running or sitting

Treatment for posterior compartment syndrome

If you experience any of the symptoms of posterior compartment syndrome, seek immediate advice from a podiatrist. Posterior compartment syndrome can be a severe condition and cause significant damage to your nerves and muscles.

How do you prevent posterior compartment syndrome

You might consider cross-training in the pool or on the bike to reduce pressure buildup in your calves. However, speak with a podiatrist about other ways you can prevent posterior compartment syndrome.

5. Stress fracture

A stress fracture is one of the most common sports-related injuries for runners. Stress fractures are small cracks in a bone or deep bruising of a bone.

Causes and symptoms of stress fractures

Stress fractures happen when the muscles in your foot become fatigued due to overload or overuse which causes stress to the bone, and, ultimately, results in a small crack or fracture.

Other causes of stress fractures include:
  • Repetitive movement
  • A sudden increase in physical activity
  • Insufficient bone strength and density
  • Low vitamin D
  • Improper technique
Symptoms of stress fractures include:
  • Pain during activity which subsides during rest
  • Bone bruising
  • Tenderness to the area
  • Swelling on the top of the foot

Treatment for stress fractures

The best treatment for a stress fracture is rest. If your fracture is a result of running, you should take a break for six to eight weeks until your fracture heals. If you continue the activity before the fracture is healed, it can eventually lead to chronic problems and re-injury.

Other treatments for stress fractures can include:
  • Shoe inserts
  • Braces to help the injury heal properly
  • Icing
How do you prevent stress fractures?

Set incremental goals to help prevent stress fractures from occurring during training or running. If you’re training for a marathon, don’t immediately begin by running five miles on day one of your training. Go slow and build gradually over several weeks to reach your running goal. Speak with a podiatrist for more information about stress fracture prevention techniques.

6. Runner’s knee

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as runner’s knee, occurs when the kneecap continuously rubs against the thigh bone (femur) which leads to pain around the front of the knee.

Causes and symptoms of runner’s knee

There are many different causes for runner’s knee such as a structural defect or uneven gait (the way you walk or run).

Other causes of runner’s knee include:
  • Weak thigh muscles
  • Tight hamstrings
  • Over-pronation
  • Poor foot support
  • Overuse or excessive training
  • Injury
Symptoms of runner’s knee include:
  • Pain in the kneecap
  • Pain in the knees after spending long periods with the knees bent
  • Instability
  • Weakness in the knees
  • Clicking, grinding, or rubbing sound in the kneecap
  • Tenderness in the kneecap

Treatment for runner’s knee

Treatment for runner’s knee depends on a variety of factors such as age, health, and pain level.

Treatment options for runner’s knee include:
  • Elevating the injured leg
  • Applying ice to the affected area
  • NSAIDs
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Additional foot support for your arch
  • Compression wraps
How do you prevent runner’s knee?

The best thing you can do to prevent runner’s knee is avoiding overstressing your knees. It’s essential to stretch before running and make sure you have good running shoes. Ask a podiatrist about additional ways to prevent this injury.

Curious about other types of foot conditions? Read our blog 10 common foot disorders.

Suffering from foot pain? Consult a podiatrist

If you’re experiencing any foot pain, consult with a podiatrist at Voyage Healthcare. Our podiatrists are experienced in foot and ankle medicine, and we’re prepared to help ease your pain so you can get back to running.

Schedule an appointment with a podiatric specialist today, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time!

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Voyage Healthcare Team

Written by Voyage Healthcare Team

Voyage Healthcare is an independently owned, multi-specialty healthcare clinic — guided by the doctors who care for families in the northwest metro area of Minneapolis/St. Paul.


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