When you run, your feet are the foundation of every impact. They also happen to be one of the most frequently injured body parts, and you should take special care when considering how to best protect them. It’s not always easy to change a routine, but by knowing the types of injuries you might incur and how to best avoid them, you can safely and quickly adapt in a way that will reduce the physical stress felt by your feet.
What is low impact exercise, and why is it important?
Low impact exercise is a form of exercise designed to reduce stress, both physical and mental. First and foremost, it is important you know that “low impact” might seem rather like a euphemism for “low exertion.” That is not what this is. By changing the way you exercise, you can avoid injury while still obtaining the same benefits. Your heart will still beat just as hard and just as fast!
Let’s say, for example, you walk instead of run. When you run, the weight of your body and gravity combine to create a strong force of momentum that does a lot of damage over time to your joints. If you can, it’s best avoided. Of course, not everyone would prefer to walk. You can ride a bike or jump in a pool and still maintain the same level of exertion you’re used to having.
There are other benefits as well. You might find new friends for new activities like kayaking, climbing, yoga and dancing.
Mentally, many low impact exercises also provide a good recipe for meditation and reduction of stress and aggression. Yoga especially has superior benefits to running. It can help those suffering from anxiety, depression, heart ailments and high blood pressure.
Even so, there’s something about spending the early morning (or late night) hours jogging around town watching the sun rise or set while you listen to some good tunes. If low impact exercise simply is not for you, then you should still consider working it into your regimen–even if only for a day or two a week. This allows joints, muscles and tendons a short period of recovery. Just a little can help a lot in the long-term.
What types of injuries should I try to avoid during exercise?
When proper care is not taken while engaging in high impact exercise, the feet are vulnerable to a number of excruciating injuries. Here are just a few of the most common:
- Obviously these are most common when we buy new footwear or allow shoes to wear down too much. Take note that exertion can tax the body’s immune system, and even a small routine injury like a blister can turn into a big problem if it becomes infected.
- Athlete’s Foot. This is a contagious fungal infection, and if you have it you know it right away. Although it begins by affecting the skin of your feet, it can spread to toenails or other parts of the body. This too is usually a minor condition, but those with diabetes or an ailment that may weaken the immune system should seek medical attention immediately. If you can help it, try to avoid crowded gym showers and locker rooms where the moisture-loving fungus thrives best.
- Stress Fracture. Breaks and fractures can happen slowly or suddenly, and you should report any unusual pain to your doctor. Constant, strenuous exercise causes these barely noticeable fractures, which can then grow into bigger problems the longer they are left untreated. Be careful to avoid more extreme fractures by avoiding running in the rain or on uneven surfaces.
- There is also the inflammation of a tendon, and it can range from a minor, uncomfortable injury to a completely debilitating, excruciating injury. It is usually treated with rest, ice, an anti-inflammatory and by wrapping the site of the injury. More serious cases can require corticosteroid injections, physical therapy and even surgery. This is one of those injuries that can just as easily be caused by low impact exercise (i.e., running). The reason is this: tendinitis is usually caused by any repetitive movement. This is a good reason to rotate between low impact and strenuous exercise. One day on, one day off works to help most people retain the best benefits of both worlds.
How do I strengthen my feet to avoid common injuries?
Sometimes shoes can encumber a successful exercise regimen rather than provide a comfortable environment for one of your most important body parts. After all, humans were not born wearing a pair of shoes. Not surprisingly, we have not m better than Mother Nature when it comes to protecting our feet during exercise.
That’s why you might do well to abandon shoes while you train your muscles and strengthen your feet to avoid the more common injuries mentioned above. “Short foot” is an exercise routine meticulously designed to activate certain muscles in the foot and leg that we rarely if ever use. By gaining access to them, you spread out the area of impact when you hit the ground. Basically, they offer an extra layer of padding for high impact exercise like running.
There are variations of this form of exercise you can look into, but here are a couple to try right now:
- Place your feet and toes on the ground. Drag the big toe toward your heel without letting either lift from the ground. The arch of your foot will curl, and you’ll start to feel the hurt. Hold that position for five to ten seconds, then move on to the next foot. When you’re done, rinse and repeat with both feet three or four times (if you can).
- Unfold and place a towel on a flat open surface in front of you. This strange exercise involves using your toes to drag that sucker toward you, and if it sounds easy–think again.
If barefoot training exercises like these aren’t for you, then try some yoga. There are a number of poses that will leave your feet (and the rest of your body) burning for days.
If you prefer strenuous exercise on a daily basis, then your feet feel all of that increased stress. Alternating from low impact to high impact not only provides recovery time, but reduces the chance you might incur one of the aforementioned injuries and increases the strength of your feet. In addition, be sure to stretch before any exercise and wear footwear designed for the kind of exercise you plan to do. If you can do all that while strengthening your feet with short foot or similar exercises during the interim, you should avoid those injuries like a pro!
Dr. Steven Brook is a board certified podiatrist and founder of Country Foot Care, which now has three locations on Long Island. With over 30 years of experience in the world of podiatric medicine, his practice prides themselves on offering state of the art care in conjunction with personal attention and the pampering that your feet deserve.