This is an article I co-wrote with sports podiatrist and Correct Toes inventor Dr. Ray McClanahan.
Here’s a common scenario some of you may find yourself in: It’s been a few months since you last pulled on your athletic shoes, and you’ve been wearing conventional shoes at work that meet the office dress code but are kind of constricting. There is a big annual walking or running event coming up in the not-too-distant future that you always participate in, or you’ve recently discovered a new event or a long hike that you’re just dying to try. But you’ve got a nagging foot problem and you’re wondering if you can begin your training. Or perhaps a new problem has cropped up seemingly out of nowhere. If this is the situation you find yourself in, this article is for you!
When Can I Begin Training?
The question at the heart of this discussion is: “When is it appropriate for me to begin training in earnest for a walking event or multi-day hike if I have a foot problem that is causing me pain or discomfort?” As fellow runners and walkers, we understand the urgency that comes with preparing for a big race, event, or outing, and we also understand how frustrating it is to wait out a foot problem before ramping up training volume and intensity (or even to miss an event due to a foot problem or injury). We’ve been there, and we sympathize with your situation. But trying to train with an existing foot problem is not an appropriate course of action, as it usually ends up compounding the problem and leading to a more deeply entrenched foot issue.
Listen to Your Body
The pain or discomfort associated with plantar fasciosis (commonly mislabeled “plantar fasciitis”), neuromas, bunions, capsulitis, sesamoiditis, and other foot problems is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be corrected. Perhaps it’s an impediment to natural foot health that needs to be removed (think conventional footwear) or a longstanding foot or lower extremity issue that was never properly addressed. Whatever the issue, it’s important that it gets resolved before you start any serious weight-bearing exercise routine. We know this may sound unappealing, but don’t despair, as there is every reason to believe that your foot issue can be helped in a timely manner, if you allow your foot to function the way nature intended.
Make Foot-Health-Positive Decisions
The answer to most common foot problems, including the ones that keep you from participating in the activities you love, is elegantly simple and universally applicable. The first step in restoring natural foot health is understanding which specific shoe features deform your natural foot shape and alter the dynamics of your feet and toes. Heel elevation, toe spring, toe box taper, and rigid soles are all injurious design elements found in most conventional footwear. Excessive cushioning, excessive weight, and things such as built-in “arch support” are also problematic inclusions to watch for and avoid in all types of footwear, including athletic footwear. Using shoes that are truly foot-healthy—flat from heel to toe, flexible in the sole, and widest at the ends of your toes—allows your feet and toes the freedom to act as nature planned.
SHOP MEN'S SHOES SHOP WOMEN'S SHOES
Many people also benefit from using Correct Toes toe spacers to realign their toes to the splayed position commonly seen in the healthiest feet in the world—the feet of barefoot or unshod populations in Africa, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. Injinji toe socks and Strutz foot pads or Pedag metatarsal pads can also be very helpful in enabling optimal foot form and function, overcoming a variety of longstanding foot and toe problems, and preventing the kinds of problems that might limit your athletic participation. Performing key stretching and strengthening exercises is another important consideration in building strong, healthy, and resilient feet.
SHOP CORRECT TOES SHOP INJINJI TOE SOCKS SHOP METATARSAL PADS
Remove the Barriers to Natural Foot Health
Many people find that their foot pain or problem dissipates once the barriers to natural foot health are removed and proper toe alignment and foot position is restored. How quickly this occurs depends on numerous factors, though, including the tissue types involved (e.g., nerve, muscle, tendon, ligament, etc), the mobility/plasticity of the involved tissues or structures, and how long you’ve been experiencing the problem. Most people will experience at least some degree of immediate relief from their foot pain or problem after adopting foot-health-promoting footgear and performing the helpful exercises mentioned above, with additional beneficial results occurring over several weeks and months, assuming good compliance.
Training During the Recovery Phase
Some light training may be appropriate during the initial recovery phase, as long as your foot pain or discomfort is not made worse with weight-bearing activity or does not alter your gait. Compensating for a foot injury by changing your gait can lead to problems in other parts of your musculoskeletal system (e.g., knees, hips, back, etc.) and further downtime away from your passion. If you are limping, have severe pain, or if your pain increases as you walk or run, you should avoid walking, running, and hiking. Consider getting on your bike or into the pool for your workout instead, all the while seeking the help of an appropriate healthcare provider to solve the underlying foot problem so that you can get back to your weight-bearing activities as quickly as possible.
So, Are You Ready to Train?
Performing a clear-eyed assessment of your readiness for physical activity is an important thing to do if you've been away from athletic participation for some time. This assessment, in our opinion, should incorporate a close inspection of your foot health and function and how you can best support your feet—the foundation of your entire body. Regardless of your current situation (free of foot pain or currently experiencing foot pain or problems) we encourage you to carefully consider your footwear and how it can help or hinder your foot health and quality of life. Consider, too, the many potential benefits of adopting footgear, such as Correct Toes, that gently encourages your foot to become strong on its own.
Every set of feet is unique, and an approach that works great for one person may not work as well for someone else. For this reason, as well as to learn more about noninvasive methods for treating and preventing common foot problems, we encourage you to meet with a naturally-minded podiatrist or other foot care expert in your area if you're encountering difficulties in your transition back to an active lifestyle.
We wish you many miles of happy, pain-free running and walking!