At the first of the year, many people resolve to get in shape. A month or two later, many of those same people who jumped full throttle into an exercise regimen are feeling the effects of running, walking and other new activities - particularly in their feet. But there are ways to treat and prevent foot pain, says Dr. Rebecca A. Cerrato, a foot and ankle surgeon at the Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy Medical Center.
Do you see more foot injuries this time of year?
We'll often see right after the New Year foot-related issues from people getting back to the gym. There's usually a little spike in January and February. In the winter, there are always some injuries related to ice, even from people not participating in sports. But mostly, it's people trying to get back into exercising.
How common are foot problems in general, and does exercising make you more prone to a problem?
It can. Certain problems are common. Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon, or heel cord, felt on the back of the heel) is something that is more common in people who work out. Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the connective tissue supporting the arch, usually felt on the bottom of the heel), stress fracture in the foot (small crack in a bone) and Morton's neuroma (pinching of the nerve in the forefoot that feels like walking on a stone) are also common injuries.
How do you treat them?
Typically with all four of those, people develop pain in different areas of the foot. And if it's not severe and you can bear weight and it's not too swollen, you can manage it on your own. Stop exercising for a while. Remember your RICE pneumonic? Rest, Ice, Compression with Ace bandages and Elevation. They will resolve a lot of minor foot pain.
How do you avoid hurting your feet when you exercise?
A good stretching program. And get back into exercising gradually. Don't go out after six months off and run 10 miles. Getting good, well-fitting athletic shoes is another thing. Get good arch support if you have fallen arches; good heel support prevents Achilles tendonitis. A neuroma can happen when your shoes are too narrow and tight. ... If you have an old pair of sneakers and you haven't replaced them in a while, address that as well.
How do you stretch your feet?
Heel stretching is good for your Achilles and also prevents plantar fasciitis. Put one foot on the wall and one foot behind you and lean into the wall. For plantar fasciitis prevention, bend your knee and grab your foot and pull your ankle upward. Pull your toes up as high as you can. You'll feel a good stretch on your fascia band.
If stretching and RICE don't help, when do you go to the doctor?
A common question is, "How do I know if I have Achilles tendonitis or a rupture?" With a rupture, people have a hard time walking. The pain is much more significant, and you have swelling and bruising that is not seen with tendonitis. See a doctor for a rupture. Otherwise, try RICE for three or four weeks, and if you're not better, go to a medical professional.
What about high heels?
If your feet aren't hurting and you've been wearing high heels, I wouldn't say it's not appropriate to wear them when you get back to an exercise program. If your feet are starting to hurt, stop wearing them.
Read more about foot problems at baltimoresun.com/expertadvice