How to Keep Your Feet Healthy On and Off the Field

Follow this foot care guide regarding common foot problems that affect both athletes and non-athletes.

As an athlete, your feet take a beating. Blisters, corns, bunions, athlete's foot, broken nails, broken toes, turf toe, torn ligaments. The list of potential foot ailments an athlete can face are near endless. These issues will not only impair your sports performance, they're just as likely to keep you out of a game as knee, back or shoulder issues. To help you hurdle foot-related problems and feel your best on the field, check out the foot care game plan below.

General Foot Care Guidelines

  • Buy properly fitting shoes, sneakers and cleats with good cushioning. Tight footwear can rub your feet raw, making even the simplest exercises hurt like hell. When trying on footwear, don't be afraid to test them out. Jump, run, cut, etc. to get a sense if the shoe is really right for you. In the video above, athletic trainer Dan Graham discusses the importance of finding the proper running shoe.
  • Wash your feet daily and allow them to breathe. Wear clean socks daily to eliminate germs/fungi. Dirty socks are a breeding ground for athlete's foot.
  • If you've outgrown your footwear or beaten them up to the point that they're no longer effective, buy new footwear immediately. Trying to tough it out will only cause painful problems, and you'll still have to buy new footwear eventually.
  • Relieve sore and tired feet after practices and games by immersing them for 10-15 minutes either in a tub of warm water mixed with a cup of Epsom Salt or in plain cool water containing some ice.

How To Tackle Common Foot Problems

Turf Toe

Description: A sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe joint.

Symptoms: Generally immediate severe pain at the bottom of big toe, swelling, and the inability to extend the toe or walk without pain.

Treatment and Prevention: The University of Wisconsin's Sports Medicine Department provides these treatment and prevention tips: Depending on the severity of the injury, RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and perhaps immobilizing the toe to promote healing and then a sports medical professional can best estimate healing time and an approximate clearance date for resuming sports participation.

Consider using specially designed inserts prescribed by a sports medical professional, who can also correct any gait-related problems that can contribute to injury and develop training techniques to lower injury risk such as simply changing the athlete's gait pattern.

Learn more about how to beat turf toe.

Blisters

Treatment: Washington D.C.-based podiatrist Stephen Pribut advises "taking it easy a day or two" after developing a nasty blister to allow for healing. Although most small blisters will drain and heal naturally, larger ones might need to be popped by a health care professional—not yourself—with extreme caution to avoid infection. A blister that becomes infected can be painful, oozing pus, and red around the edges, and requires a doctor's visit

Prevention: Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, M.D., of the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City, and author of The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies (2012, Rodale, Inc.), says anything that reduces friction in the area will prevent blisters. He suggests wearing double-layer socks or putting petroleum between the toes to deter blisters. Other common sense ways to avoid blisters: wearing correctly fitting footwear, keeping the feet as dry as possible, regularly changing socks or using foot powder to keep your feet dry.

Athlete's Foot

Description: A common fungal infection of the skin generally caused by walking in areas where the fungus lives—often on damp floors in public showers and locker rooms.

Symptoms: Itching, burning, small blisters, inflammation and cracked, scaly skin between the toes, under the toenails and soles of the feet.

Treatment: Nationally recognized holistic physician Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends exposing the infected feet to fresh air and sunlight and keeping them dry and clean; applying anti-fungal natural home remedies–either tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract (both available in health food stores)—to the affected area two or three times daily and continuing to apply it for several days until the infection disappears. Alternatives to these natural remedies are antifungal medicated sprays, powders and lotions available in pharmacies.

Prevention: Besides keeping feet clean and dry, remove sneakers, shoes and other athletic/non-athletic footwear at home and expose the feet to the air; change socks daily–preferably wear only cotton socks; carefully dry your feet—particularly between the toes—after using a public shower or locker room; avoid going barefoot in public showers and locker rooms—always wear sandals, flip-flops or water shoes in these areas; never borrow someone else's footwear; throw out worn-out exercise and sports footwear.

Learn another unusual treatment for athlete's foot.

Plantar Fasciitis (Heel Spur Syndrome)

Description: Inflammation of the plantar fascia–"plantar" meaning the bottom of the foot, and "fascia," the band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the front of the foot—caused by either footwear with poor arch support; walking barefoot for extended periods; tight calf muscles and/or weak foot and ankle muscles; arthritis; obesity or sudden weight gain; or an immediate increase in physical activity (e.g., running, plyometrics).

Symptoms: Tenderness and pain at the bottom of the foot at the front base of the heel, particularly when running, walking or standing for extended periods or when arising and taking the first step out of bed.

Treatment and Prevention: Pain usually subsides from resting the foot, icing, massaging the heel area and performing specific daily foot stretching. Dale L. Anderson, M.D., authored a book over 20 years ago called 90 Seconds to Muscle Pain Relief (1992, CompCare Publishers), which suggests the following stretch to relieve heel pain from plantar fasciitis or a heel spur:

  • Sit on a chair or on the floor and bring the inflamed foot over your opposite knee or your lap.
  • Fold the bottom of your foot by pushing the heel and toes together and hold for at least 90 seconds.
  • If your right foot has the heel pain, bring the right foot to your lap while seated. Push your right heel toward your toes with your right hand.
  • With your left hand, pull the forefoot and toes toward the heel.
  • Repeat the stretch a few times–holding the stretch for at least 90 seconds.

Another effective plantar fascia stretch is the Standing Straight Leg Calf Stretch.

  • Stand about 1 to 2 feet facing a wall in a staggered stance with your hands against the wall.
  • Lean forward with your healthy foot toward the wall.
  • Extend the other leg back and press the inflamed heel toward the ground. Feel the stretch from your hips down toward your hamstring and calf muscles.
  • Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
  • Repeat.

Another strategy for naturally treating plantar fasciitis is rubbing the bare foot over a tennis ball or foam roller or a rolling pin forward and backward several times. Regularly stretching tight Achilles tendons and calf muscles can also eliminate plantar fasciitis. Other treatment options include inserting cushioning insoles in footwear to reduce plantar fascia stress; wearing arch and foot supports (to enhance arch support); or wearing heel cushions and pads. A podiatrist can make custom-fitting orthotics to help prevent and treat plantar fasciitis.

RELATED: Help Is on the Way for Plantar Fascitis


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: STRETCHING | SPORTS | FASCIA | PLANTAR FASCIITIS | FOOTWEAR | PLANTAR | BLISTERS