Nothing is more frustrating for an active person than an injury.
Sprains, strains, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis—a lot can go wrong with a foot or ankle that’s been subjected to an unexpected blow, or sometimes just too much force over too long a time period without a chance to rest and recover.
We know, we know—you just want to go go go. And we want to make sure you’re able to do just that! We love helping our patients stay active! There’s really nothing like regular exercise to keep your body, mind, and spirit at full health.
Which, again, is why injuries can be so devastating.
Fortunately, although you can’t ever completely eliminate the chance of an injury, there are lots of smart precautions you can take to reduce your risk as much as possible. Here are some of the most important ones.
Get the Right Pair of Shoes
Your shoes really can make or break it for you. And by “it,” we mean your bones, tendons, ligaments, joints … you get the idea.
When selecting a pair of shoes for athletics and sports, you need to consider a couple of important factors:
They Fit Your Feet
Obviously, your shoes should be the right size and shape for your feet. Seems pretty straightforward, but it might be a little trickier than you realize.
For starters, you can’t forget about shoe width. In many cases it’s just as important as the length in terms of helping keep you stable and injury free.
But beyond that, runners especially need to consider shoes that match their pronation style as well. For example, a runner with a flat foot arch and overpronation may need shoes with more arch support and stability features, whereas a high-arched runner should look for a shoe with lots of cushioning.
Not sure about your foot type or pronation style? We are happy to help you find out and make appropriate footwear recommendations!
Bonus shopping tips to ensure you get the right fit:
- Always measure your feet before shopping or buying.
- Always test the fit in person. Don’t gamble.
- Shop late in the day, when your feet are likely to be a little swollen.
- Bring along an appropriate pair of athletic socks so that you can test the fit with the correct pair.
They Are Sport-Specific
What’s one of the most common footwear mistakes that weekend warriors, recreational athletes, and even some serious competitors make?
Lots of possible answers to this one, but we’ll go with “not wearing sport-specific shoes.”
In other words, there’s a reason why they make separate types of shoes for running, basketball, tennis, and hiking—and why they look and feel so different to wear!
The physical challenges your feet and ankles have to overcome from, say, running a marathon on pavement are very different from the challenges of running up and down a basketball court, chasing down a drop shot, or hiking a mountain trail. Lighter weight and lower ankle cuts might be a blessing for marathoners, but a curse for basketball players!
In order to save time and money, many beginners are tempted to use their basic walking shoes for every physical activity. But this approach can significantly increase the risk of accidental injury, especially if you are playing a particular sport on at least a weekly basis.
Know When It’s Time to Let Go of Those Shoes
Now that you have a comfortable, fashionable pair of sport-specific shoes that fit your feet properly, you’re certain to become attached to them.
It’s a classic love story, after all. Athletes and their shoes. What bliss!
But even true love doesn’t last forever. Shoes will wear down over time. In general, this tends to happen after about 300-500 miles, though these numbers vary depending on the construction of the shoe, your weight, your sport, your running style, etc.
The most obvious sign that your shoes are nearing the end of its lifespan is tread wear. Just like the tread on a tire, the tread on the bottom of your shoe helps you maintain traction and prevent slips, especially on wet or unstable surfaces.
(Incidentally, the patterns of tread wear on your shoes can also tell you a lot about your pronation style and can help you identify abnormalities in your gait. But that’s a blog for another day.)
However, treads aren’t the only part of a shoe that deteriorate with time. The midsole is also of critical importance.
As the name implies, the midsole of your shoe is positioned between the outsole (treads) and the insole. The midsole is the most important part of the shoe when it comes to shock absorption, and unlike most insoles it can’t be replaced. And over time through wear and tear, the midsole will flatten and compress, gradually losing its ability to absorb shocks.
If you notice that your treads are worn down, or that your feet are increasingly aching and sore after exercise, there’s a good chance your shoes have lost that loving feeling. And it’s time to move on.
Athletes sometimes don’t know when to stop. That can be a good thing in certain circumstances, but it isn’t always so good for your feet!
Just like any other part of your body, your feet need regular “rest days” to recover after you put them through their paces. That’s how they get stronger—that period of “rebuilding” after hard exercise! If they never get that break, they start to break down instead.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to do nothing but sit on the couch every other day! There are lots of ways you can reduce the amount of stress your feet have to handle during your training sessions, as well as build “rest” into your overall workout plan without slowing down.
- Ease into new activities. A seasoned athlete in great physical shape is going to be able to train a lot longer and harder than an average Joe. But even a man or woman in good shape might struggle with a new sport at first. Be sure to start slow, especially if you’re just getting back from the offseason, or an injury, or changing your training routine. Begin at a pace you know you can handle comfortably, and then gradually increase the intensity by up to 10% or so per week.
- Take regular breaks throughout your training session. A few minutes to catch your breath on the bench can make a big difference.
- Cross-train. If your primary sport is high-impact, such as running or basketball, make sure you take at least a few days of the week for low-impact work. Cycling, swimming, or strength training instead of running helps keep you fit and engage other muscles while giving your feet a break at the same time. Even something relatively peaceful like yoga can help you with strength, balance, and breathing—all pretty critical skills for an athlete.
- Listen to your body. Soreness is one thing, but you should never try to play through pain. If your feet hurt, it means you need help! Being stubborn is only going to make your injury worse.
Other Quick Tips
A few more insights to help you reduce your injury risk:
- Wear appropriate gear. We’ve already talked a lot about your shoes. (We are podiatrists, after all!) But we also want you to protect the parts of your body that aren’t your feet! Always be sure to play with the appropriate safety gear—in good repair and the right size for you, of course.
- Only play in safe conditions. Soggy fields, extreme heat or cold, other inclement weather patterns, and even deteriorating equipment can all make playing conditions unsafe. Don’t subject yourself to unnecessary risk.
- Warm up and cool down—always. Warming up helps engage your muscles and joints and get them ready for activity in a safe, controlled environment. And cooling down helps you gradually bring your heart rate back to normal and flush toxins from your system so they don’t build up on your muscles.
- Fuel yourself properly. Eat a healthy diet and be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.
While we certainly hope these tips will keep your feet and ankles safe no matter what sport or activity you live best, remember that pain is always a sign that you need professional treatment—and the team at Carmel Foot Specialists is here for you.
To schedule an appointment with our team, please call the office closest to you today:
- Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
- South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253