3 Common Causes of Foot Pain from Running

As the coronavirus pandemic has pushed more and more people out of their daily routines, workplaces and gyms, people are taking to the streets in ways they haven’t before. Namely, first-time joggers, gym-goers and bored people everywhere are hitting the pavement in an effort to stay – or get – in shape during quarantine.

Running is an inexpensive and accessible exercise everyone can do to improve their health. In fact, some studies have found that running just five to 10 minutes every day at a moderate pace can reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, running can help strengthen bones, build muscle and improve overall mood.

Many new runners, however, will quickly experience foot pain from running. And while foot injuries from running are common, the underlining causes vary from runner to runner.

Causes of Foot Pain from Running

Your foot is a complex network of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that work together while you run. As such, a running-related foot injury may involve one or more parts of this intricate network. Before deciding whether or not you should see a doctor for your foot pain, you may want to determine if something as simple as changing your shoes or improving your running form could help reduce or eliminate your foot pain after running.

While we always recommend seeking an orthopedic foot specialist or a podiatrist for a proper foot pain diagnosis, the following information may be helpful when determining whether you need to see a foot specialist.

Toe Pain During or After Running: Hallux Rigidus

The big toe plays an outsized role in walking and running. Or – more correctly – the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint that joins the metatarsal bone in the forefoot to the phalanx (first bone of the big toe) is crucial to proper foot function. This joint, which connects the big toe to the rest of the foot, bends every time you take a step and allows your foot to roll forward and push off the ground. Amazingly, this one small joint supports 50% of your body weight during this part of your gait.

Literally meaning “stiff big toe,” hallux rigidus is a form of degenerative arthritis and is the second most common of the big toe after bunions.

While there are a number of biologically-related causes of hallux rigidus, such as osteoarthritis and inflammatory diseases, if you started having pain in your big toe during or after running, it may be due to overuse or injury.

Commonly referred to as “turf toe” in athletes, hallux rigidus can be caused by spraining the MTP joint or stubbing the toe while running. Simple overuse of the joint from running too far or too often can also cause hallux rigidus.

Heel Pain After Running: Plantar Fasciitis

Are you experiencing stabbing pain in your heel or the bottom of your foot after running? Do you experience the same foot pain first thing in the morning and after long periods of sitting?

If so, your foot pain may be plantar fasciitis.

Very common in runners and one of the most common causes of heel pain, plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the thick band of tissues that connects your toes to your heel bone along the bottom of your foot. This tissue – called the plantar fascia – acts as a shock absorber that also supports the arch of your foot when you walk and run.

Excessive tension and stress on your plantar fascia can cause irritation, inflammation and small tears in the tissue, which may result in sharp heel pain. Long-distance running – particularly with poor running form – can cause plantar fasciitis, as can flat feet and high arches.

Thankfully, if your heel pain after running is plantar fasciitis, resting, icing, stretching and improving your running form often can relieve your symptoms. If your pain persists, seeing a foot specialist for a diagnosis is recommended.

Sharp Foot Pain from Running: Stress Fracture

Are you new to running – or running more than usual – and are suffering from acute, localized foot pain? You may have a stress fracture.

Per the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

“A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone, or severe bruising within a bone. Most stress fractures are caused by overuse and repetitive activity, and are coming in runners and athletes who participate in running sports, such as soccer and basketball.”

Whether you’re running on asphalt, on trails or otherwise, a sudden change or increase in exercise, workout intensity or even switching from the treadmill at the gym to the streets around your home, can cause stress fractures in your foot.

Most often found in the metatarsal bones – the middle bones of your foot – stress fractures in runners are also common in the heel, the ankle, the ankle joint and the top-middle foot bone (navicular). Most stress fractures of the foot are overuse injuries – especially in long-distance runners and those new to running.

As diagnosing stress fractures can be difficult, if you’re experiencing a sharp pain and think you may have a stress fracture, see an orthopedic foot specialist immediately.  

If you’ve suffered a foot injury from running or are experiencing foot pain and have questions for an orthopedic doctor, please feel free to contact us. We are more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

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