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Common Foot Problems for Runners And What They Say About Your Health

The feet of a runner definitely take a pounding. Did you know that when you jog, your foot hits the ground with an impact of an average of two to three times your body weight? Additionally, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), a jogger who weighs 150 pounds will expose his or her feet to an impact of about 150 tons over the course of three miles.

Your feet can indicate some underlying health issues. As a runner, it is critical that you pay attention to the health and condition of your feet and the signs of trouble they may be giving you. Here are some examples

Foot cramping. If you experience sudden and/or erratic foot cramping, you may be dehydrated or simply exercising too intensely. Chronic foot cramping may be a sign that you lack calcium, magnesium or potassium in your diet. Try adding the following foods:

  • Calcium: Milk, yogurt, leafy greens, cheese, seafood and legumes
  • Magnesium: dark leafy greens, seeds, nuts, fish, whole grains, beans, avocados, bananas, dried fruit, yogurt and dark chocolate
  • Potassium: Dark leafy greens, potatoes, beans, squash, yogurt, fish, mushrooms, avocados and bananas

Dry skin. Dry, flaky skin can be a sign of the fungal infection that is commonly known as athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot often appears as dry, itchy skin between the first two toes and then progresses to inflammation and blisters. Keeping your feet, as well as your socks and shoes, clean and dry helps prevent athlete’s foot.

If those measures and using a moisturizer do not help, your dry, flaky skin could be a sign of a thyroid problem. The thyroid gland, which is located in the base of your neck, helps control your body’s blood pressure, metabolic rate, tissue growth and nervous system and skeletal development. See your doctor to have your thyroid levels checked with a blood test.

Related: 4 Basic Tips To Maintaining Healthy Feet

Changes in your toes. Improperly fitting running shoes can cause your toes to slam against the front of the shoe each time your foot hits the ground. If your toes appear white, blue or red in color, you may have Raynaud’s disease. See your doctor for an evaluation.

If the hair on your toes, feet or ankles diminishes or disappears, it could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD, which is essentially a buildup of plaque in the arteries of the leg, affects about eight million Americans.

An enlarged big toe also can be a warning sign of a health problem such as gout, a form of arthritis that can affect the joint of the big toe. You may notice swelling of the big toe after you have eaten a meal of red meat or fish or after consuming certain forms of alcohol. Some of these foods are high in the chemical compound, purine. Large amounts of purine can raise the uric acid content in the body, causing swelling in the big toe or the ankle.

Changes in toenails. Do your toenails seem brittle? This sign can be a symptom of thyroid complications.

It’s a good idea to check your toenails for streaks or other discolorations. Red streaks could be an indication of broken blood vessels, also known as splinter hemorrhages. These streaks occur when small blood clots damage the tiny capillaries under the nails. They can be an indication of endocarditis, which is an infection of the heart’s inner lining. The infection could result in heart failure if it is left untreated. See your doctor.

Depressions in your toenails can signal that you have an iron deficiency or an over-production of iron in your body. Spooned nails also can be a sign you have anemia or lupus. See your doctor for a blood test.

Sores or ulcers that don’t heal. As a runner, you may be used to your feet hurting, but if you have a sore that does not heal, it may be a warning sign. A sore that does not heal could be a sign of damaged nerves or of poor circulation, caused by a variety of conditions including diabetes. Many cases of diabetes are first diagnosed because of a foot problem. Your physician can perform a blood sugar level test to rule out diabetes.

Related: Say No To Sweaty Feed And Blisters

Foot odor: Your feet contain more sweat glands than any other body part, so foot odor is a common problem for many runners. You can cut down on the odor by keeping your feet as clean and dry as possible. Use an antibacterial soap to wash your feet and dry them well. Wear dry cotton or moisture-wicking socks. If your shoes get wet, make sure they are fully dry before you wear them again.

Finally, when your feet hurt, it is important to take it as a sign that something is wrong. Do not continue to run on painful feet in the hope that the pain will just go away. Here are some other “preventative maintenance” tips for runners’ feet:

  • Stretch before exercise to reduce any strain on muscles, tendons and joints. The APMA also recommends you walk for 10 minutes before you begin running.
  • Build up your speed, distance and endurance gradually over time to help prevent foot pain due to overuse issues.
  • Run on a dirt surface whenever possible to help absorb some of the impact of your foot hitting the ground as you run. Hard surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, are inflexible and can cause injury.
  • Replace your shoes when they are worn. Old running shoes wear out faster than you think. They lack support, traction and flexibility – all of which can add up to foot problems.

Derek Roach writes on common foot problems in runners to raise awareness on the importance of foot health. He is the co-founder of FlowFeet.com. Visit their blog for more information and additional articles by Derek.