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10 Do’s and Don’ts of Foot Care for Walkers and Runners

From the time our feet hit the floor in the morning to the time we get into bed at night, our feet take a beating. As a walker or runner, we ask a lot of our feet. We cram them into socks and shoes and pound them on the pavement for thousands of steps each day.

Exercise can do a lot for our physical and mental health, but more often than not, our feet aren’t getting the tender loving care we give other, less-crucial parts of our bodies. It’s not surprising that many walking- and running-related injuries involve (you guessed it!) your feet.

Foot pain can have a profound impact on your quality of life. According to a survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association, a majority of Americans say they have experienced foot pain but only one-third have sought medical care.

“Our feet are the furthest from our heart and the furthest from our minds (literally and figuratively),” said Joseph Dobrusin, DPM, a podiatrist at Banner Health Center. “Our feet keep us ambulatory, or moving, but many view their feet as the least important body parts in terms of overall health.”

Before you slip on your socks and lace up your shoes, Dr. Dobrusin shared 10 do’s and don’ts to ensure your feet remain happy and healthy through every walk and run.

10 do’s and don’ts of foot care

1. Do wear the right shoe for the right activity

There are lots and LOTS of choices when it comes to shoes. You may want to get the most out of your shoes but running shoes can be quite different from walking shoes. And, no, this isn’t just a marketing ploy by shoe companies to get you to buy more shoes.

“Shoes are divided into running or walking because the movements are different,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “Runners and walkers use different foot strikes, and they have different weight distributions. Runners use two to three times their weight with each step, while walkers use only one or two times.”

The features of each type of footwear are customized to meet the demands being placed on your feet. For casual, non-competitive running and walking, you can find shoes that can work for both, but for long-distance runners or walkers you’ll want to find shoes specific to those activities. “As well, if you’ll be participating in other multi-directional types of activities, such as pickleball, tennis or basketball, you’ll want to consider shoes with medial or lateral stability for side-to-side motions that aren’t provided in running or walking shoes,” Dr. Dobrusin said.

Check out “7 Shoe Mistakes You’re Making (And How to Fix Them)” for helpful tips.

2. Don’t wear shoes that don’t fit

Purchase shoes that aren’t too big and aren’t too small. Wearing a shoe that doesn’t properly fit can lead to a multitude of problems for your feet.

“Shoes that are too big or wide can allow your feet to slide around, which can cause friction and lead to blisters,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “Shoes that are too small or too tight can lead to bruised (black) toenails, nerve pain, bunions, hammertoes and other deformities. It’s important to be spot on.”

Dr. Dobrusin suggested walking/jogging in shoes at a store where there’s no carpeting. Take them home and walk/jog around the house a while before you take them outdoors so you can return them if they aren’t a good fit. Whatever you do, don’t get suckered into a smaller pair by someone who says the shoes will stretch.

“The shoes should fit, period,” he said. “Shoes can actually shrink over time. Make sure you have at least a thumb’s length of room from the edge of the shoe to your big toe.”

3. Do replace worn out shoes

Walking and running shoes have limited lifespans. With each step, you’re breaking down their cushioning, support and tread. Wearing shoes past their prime can lead to foot, knee or leg pain and other injuries, such as plantar fasciitis.

Check your shoes regularly and look for wear and tear. If it’s time to say goodbye, don’t toss them in the trash. Consider donating your shoes to a community recycling center or athletic store. Many recycled shoes are used to make playground and track surfaces.

4. Do wear the right socks

Even if you have an awesome pair of walking or running shoes, you also need an equally stellar pair of socks.

“A good pair of socks shouldn’t be too tight or too loose, or they bunch up and create hot spots,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “Look for a cotton blend or synthetic combination that helps wick away sweat.”

5. Don’t go barefoot at home

Going barefoot at home may seem logical but walking barefoot can put you at greater risk for injury and accidents. If you have a foot condition, back problems or a chronic condition like diabetes, wearing the right shoes is especially critical. Dr. Dobrusin suggested wearing shoes that provide protection, stability, arch support and cushioning.

Diabetic? Here’s how to keep your feet healthy.

6. Do keep your toenails trimmed

Like your feet, your toenails can also take a beating. Damage occurs when you repeatedly contact the front or side of your shoes. This can lead to the black or dark color you see under your toenail.

“Runners especially tend to get damaged toenails or micro traumas to the toenail,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “Blood blisters can also develop under the toenail, which can cause the toenail to lift up and eventually fall off.”

To help reduce your risk, make sure you keep your toenails trimmed. Cut them straight across following the natural curve of your toe. Avoid cutting them too short, so you can prevent ingrown toenails.

7. Do stretch your feet

Regularly stretching our bodies is important, so don’t ignore your feet. Stretching your feet can improve flexibility, circulation and prevent and relieve pain. Even a good foot massage can do wonders for your feet.

Talk to your health care provider or podiatrist for recommended stretches you can do.

8. Don’t forget to let your feet breathe

After a long walk or run, your feet will be pretty sweaty. Take off your socks and shoes and wash and dry your feet. Why? Athlete’s foot and other foot fungi thrive in dark, moist places like inside your shoes and socks.

Check out “The Best Ways to Prevent and Treat Athlete's Foot” for additional tips.

9. Do moisturize your feet

Many runners, hikers and walkers remain blister-free using lube, creams, ointments and other products. Before you go on a long walk or run, coat hot spots (areas that are at risk for blisters) with a thin layer of Vaseline or anti-chafing balms.

Also check out “Happy Trails and Feet: 6 Tips to Prevent Blisters.”

10. Don’t ignore swelling or pain

And finally, your feet shouldn’t hurt all the time. Persistent foot and toe pain can be an indication of injury, irritation or illness. Schedule an appointment with your health care provider or podiatrist to take a look at your feet.

For other related articles, check out:

Primary Care Fitness

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