Marathon Runner Foot Care: What You Need To Know
Your foot, made up of 28 bones including the sesamoids, 33 joints, 125,000 sweat glands, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, is a fine piece of machinery–and like an expensive sports car, it performs best with regular tune-ups. If you are a marathon runner you’ve already spent a lot of time and money making sure you’ve got the right shoes and socks–so shouldn’t you take care of your feet themselves before the “check engine” light comes on? Here are some easy marathon runner foot care tips to add to your usual regimen.
Before the run (and every day):
- Make foot stretches part of your regular warm-up routine. Your big toe provides balance and helps you push off with each step. If the flexor hallucis longus, the muscle that extends from the lower part of your leg to your big toe, is tight your toe can’t do its job effectively. One way to limber up is to get on your hands and knees with your toes curled under and then slowly sit back until you feel the stretch in your toes and the bottom of your feet. Another good stretch: stand facing a wall with your big toe touching the wall, gently press your knee toward the wall until you feel the stretch in your foot, then hold for 30 seconds.
- Keep a ball under your desk. A small hard ball—something the size of a tennis ball—makes a wonderful foot massager. Keep a ball under your desk and roll your feet over it frequently to ease tightness in the arch of your foot.
- While you’re at it, do some toe-strengthening exercises. Nothing asks as much of your feet as running, which is basically a series of leaps and landings; the stronger your toes the better your feet can propel you forward. One easy exercise is the “towel scrunch”: sit on a chair with a towel spread out under your feet. Keeping your heel down use only your toes to move the towel closer to you—do this ten times with each foot and repeat the set three times.
- Moisturize. You will take somewhere around 40,000 steps during a single marathon and the skin of your feet will take a beating. Avoid dryness and heel fissures by rubbing your feet with a silicon-based foot cream—the ideal time is right after you’ve taken a shower when your feet are hydrated and soft (avoid the spaces between your toes where a fungus such as athlete’s foot could take hold).
After the run:
- Take care of blisters right away. You don’t want the inevitable blisters to turn into open sores, so take the time after a big race to drain and dress your blisters. Clean the area around the blister, insert a sterilized needle close to the base of the blister and gently squeeze out the fluid. Once the blister is flattened out treat it with an antibiotic ointment and cover it with a sterile bandage.
- Legs in the air. The increased blood flow to your muscles that makes your powerful run possible can turn into swelling and pain in your feet once the run is over. Stretch it out by lying flat on your back with your legs extended up the wall until you have cooled down and your heart rate is back to normal; to relieve soreness balance an ice pack (a bag of frozen peas will do) between your feet and the wall.
- Ice, Ice Baby. Keep a couple of bottles of water in the freezer and pull them out whenever you have pain in your heel or your arch—roll your foot over the frozen bottle for an icy massage that will help reduce inflammation.
- Don’t stress about a blackened nail. All that pounding can burst small blood vessels under your toenails leading to what is sometimes called “jogger’s toe.” Don’t be concerned if one of your nails turns black—yes, it may eventually fall off, but not until a new nail is ready underneath.
- But don’t ignore persistent pain. Pain is normal right after a marathon, but if any part of your foot continues to hurt go see your podiatrist. The pain itself may not be caused by a serious condition but the fact that it’s there at all can make you unconsciously alter your gait, which can lead to other injuries.
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