When playing sports, our feet are particularly special. It demands a lot of our feet, so we need to take extra care of them. Playing sport
regularly is a great thing; it’s enjoyable, good for our health, our mind and recommended by medical professionals everywhere. However, exercise can have a distinctly unhealthy effect on our feet.
When we run, our body weight is multiplied up to three times, with our feet bearing the brunt of this stress at every stride, (over 1,000 strides per mile, per foot). An average-sized man will process 112 tons of weight through each limb per mile. The demands made on your feet and lower limbs can lead to a range of injuries, including blisters, sprained ankles, torn ligaments, shin splints, knee pain, lower back pain and other joint or muscle problems. Added to these are common complaints such as corns, calluses and athlete’s foot. Asking too much, too soon of your joints and muscles, can lead to injury. Running style, poor footwear, and even minor limb length differences or foot deformities, can also contribute to injuries.
How do you look after those “sporty feet”?
As in all aspects of foot care, prevention is the key. You can look after your feet easily by following these simple rules:
- – Condition yourself gradually with stretching exercises before starting any activity, and remember to warm down too.
- – Wash your feet every day, and dry thoroughly, especially between the toes.
- – Wear only good-quality, well-fitting socks.
- – Always use the correct shoe for each sport, and surface type.
- – Get in shape; being overweight or out of shape places added stress on the feet.
What if I have an injury?
Rest is best for minor injuries. You can then gradually return to exercise when any pain or discomfort has gone, or as advised by a health professional. If there are any cuts, wash them and cover with a clean dressing. Leave blisters unopened, if possible. I.C.E. (ice, compression and elevation) helps with most minor sprains and strains. If the problem is more serious, or if you are in any doubt, it is best to seek the help of a professional. Podiatrists or physiotherapists can treat a number of acute injuries, and can also help prevent injuries developing in the first place.
Children and Sports
As children take up a particular sport(s) and become more active at school, foot and lower limb problems associated with unaccustomed exercise can occur. Growth, possible weight gain, and increased exercise, contrive to cause a wide range of painful foot and lower limb conditions. These complaints should always be taken seriously, and a diagnosis made as soon
as possible. Failure to recognise and treat these overuse symptoms, can lead to long-term problems for the child, and an inability to reach their true sporting potential. Most problems can be readily managed utilising a variety of methods. But the treatment may also require periods of rest, and a change in everyday and activity footwear. Often, the problem can be solved with footwear advice alone. Always remember to wear the correct footwear for that particular sport.
Barefoot activities like karate, judo are good exercise for the foot, but also cause problems, due to the foot having a relatively lower heel from what it is used to. This puts strain on the arch of the foot, and the back of the lower leg. Careful training and preparation are essential.
If a child indulges in any form of activity, injuries can occur and there will be aches and pains from time to time. Children are no different to adults in this respect, but they tend to repair more quickly. Also, they tend not to rest when injured, and need to be monitored carefully. Very young children may regard the problem as the norm and not complain. All aches and pains in children should be taken seriously and investigated professionally, particularly during periods of active growth.
General Footwear Advice
Footwear should be given the same consideration as any other piece of sporting equipment. Sports shoes should protect as much as possible, be durable, and should be right for the sport and surface. Getting the right shoe really cuts down on the likelihood of suffering a sports-related injury. Make sure that you buy a shoe that is designed for the activity you are doing:
Running shoes are designed for just that… running. They are very flexible, which enables the foot to bend and flex through each step. Do not use for sports such as tennis, basketball or aerobics, which involve sideways stepping.
These are much stiffer and provide greater support for the foot when side-to-side movements are made, allowing them to be used across a range of activities.
Designed for tennis, basketball, etc, they give a combination of flexibility and sideways support. Fitness shoes designed for aerobics etc, combine flexibility with support. They incorporate cushioning, to lessen the effect of shock generated, during high impact work.
Quick tips to remember when shoe shopping
- Make sure you can wiggle your toes a little.
- Try on both shoes and walk a few steps to see if they pinch or rub.
- Leave 1cm of room from the top of your longest toe to end of the shoe.
- Feet are usually biggest in the late afternoon/evening.
Good socks will not only help keep your feet comfortable within your shoes, but will also keep them dry, by drawing moisture away from the feet. Whatever you do, don’t wear 100% cotton socks; they hold the moisture against the skin, causing painful blistering. Wool and silk are often found blended with the latest generation of synthetic materials. If you find wool too warm or irritating, you could try an acrylic blended sock.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!