How to Prevent Running Injuries with Orthotics
Running is a fantastic form of exercise, but, as with all physical activities, it does come with a certain degree of injury risk. The good news is that there are several measures we can take to at least minimize that risk.
When it comes to preventing running injuries—specifically, foot and ankle injuries—one particularly beneficial preventive measure is a pair of custom orthotics.
As we start to look at how orthotics can help prevent running injuries, it’s helpful to consider the two elements of the issue.
First, we need to start with running injuries.
Given the role they play in running—and most activities—feet and ankles are particularly at risk for injury.
Understanding Running Foot and Ankle Injuries
There are essentially two general forms of injuries – acute and chronic.
Acute injuries are those which happen in a single incident. An example of this is an ankle sprain, which happens when a foot rolls or twists excessively. This excessive motion can damage the ligaments supporting the ankle joints.
Conversely, chronic injuries have a root cause of overuse – and, more specifically, an accumulation of physical force loads over time. Stress fractures are a good example of chronic injuries. These hairline cracks in the surface of bones are the result of constant pounding during running (when bone tissue is not given enough time to replenish fatigues cells – something that is constantly happening at the cellular level).
Between the two, chronic conditions are typically more preventable.
In addition to ankle sprains and stress fractures, other specific types of foot and ankle injuries include plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, metatarsalgia, and Morton’s neuroma.
Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain for adults. The main culprit in this case is a connective tissue known as the plantar fascia.
This particular fascia runs across the bottom of the foot lengthwise, bridging the hindfoot and forefoot, and supports the arch by acting like a bowstring.
Your plantar fascia is a tough, durable tissue, but it’s not infallible. When faced with excessive amounts of strain, tiny tears can start to develop in it. Your body works hard to repair these tears during periods of rest, but the initial steps following extended downtime—such as the first steps in the morning following a night’s sleep—can cause these not-yet-completely-healed to rip back open.
Specifically, the pain from plantar fasciitis is sharp and intense. It does tend to subside a bit as the day progresses, but it is a mistake to think this means the condition has healed.
Achilles tendinitis is another common source of heel pain, especially for middle-aged men who generally lead sedentary lifestyles during the week and then engage in intense athletic competition on the weekends – the proverbial “weekend warriors.”
It is also an injury runners can sustain when they either over-train or make sudden increases in duration and/or intensity (without preparing the body first by gradually ramping up efforts).
In this case, the Achilles tendon—the largest and strongest in the body—becomes pained and inflamed, which is a problem given this valuable connective tissue’s role in walking and running. Your Achilles connects the bottom of the calf muscle to the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) and enables you to move your foot up and down (when the calf muscle either elongates or contracts, respectively).
Whereas plantar fasciitis causes pain in the bottom of the heel, this injury is felt in the back. The pain is typically most severe during or immediately following activity.
Proving that not all running injuries are in the heel, metatarsalgia is one that develops in the forefoot. (Left untreated, though, it can lead to pain in other body parts, whether in the same foot or other areas like the hip or lower back due to an altered gait.)
The injury develops when excess pressure is put upon the metatarsal bones, which are the long bones in the foot that lead up to the toes. This can be caused by the force loads from running, but another leading cause is wearing high-heeled footwear that doesn’t fit well.
Also experienced in the forefoot, Morton’s neuroma is a condition wherein fibrous tissue grows around one of the nerves in the front of the foot. There are other neuromas that can develop in the body, but a distinguishing factor of Morton’s neuroma is that it is felt in the ball of the foot, usually between the third and fourth toes.
How Orthotics Can Help Prevent Problems from Arising
Custom orthotics play a role in preventing chronic running injuries by making sure the force loads that come with running—and, to a lesser extent, walking—are distributed more equitably and in a natural manner.
Orthotics are able to accomplish this because they can both reposition the foot and control abnormal biomechanical motion.
With regards to controlling motion, a major issue for many running injuries is pronation.
Pronation is a natural process used by feet in every step they take. During the ground portion of a step, the foot rotates inwards from the heel strike all the way through the final push of the toes. This rotation isn’t intended to be particularly great—around fifteen percent is ideal—but it is quite important for ensuring proper distribution of the forces that come from walking and running.
Depending on an individual’s foot structure, he or she may either pronate too much (overpronation) or not enough (supination). As a general rule, overpronation is often linked to flatfoot and supination is connected to cavus foot.
These pronation abnormalities lead to unequitable distribution of force loads, which means that certain areas of the foot bear more pressure than they are intended to. This can lead to the aforementioned common running injuries.
The good news is that custom orthotics can help with either of these biomechanical irregularities. Rigid (also known as “functional”) orthotic devices are particularly useful in this regard.
Rigid orthotics are constructed from plastic, carbon fiber, or other firm materials. These durable materials enable us to restrict or control abnormal patterns. In doing so, we can help your foot move in a manner that promotes better force distribution – which then reduces your risk for injuries like those that cause heel pain, forefoot pain, or other issues.
It is important to keep in mind that orthotics will not actually change your foot structure. Rather, these medical devices are like eyeglasses – they only work when you wear them.
Of course, we custom fit your orthotics to the shape of your unique feet. This ensures that they feel comfortable (and you will undoubtedly appreciate not having pain when running).
Other Running Injury Prevention Tips
In addition to custom orthotics, other ways to prevent common running injuries include:
- Choose the right shoes – There are a couple of considerations with this crucial activity. First, you need running shoes that fit well (neither too tight nor too large). Second, make sure they are well-constructed and offer ample arch support. Finally, always buy shoes that work with your particular pronation style.
- Warm up and stretch – Too many injuries happen when people jump right into activity, so take a couple of minutes for light jogging and dynamic stretching before heading out on your run.
- Ease into running – Are you a new runner? Then don’t try to do too much too soon. Instead, start at an easy level and gradually ramp up the intensity and duration of your running sessions.
- Hydrate – Drink plenty of water to avoid cramping in your lower limbs!
- Eat well – Providing the right nutrients for your bone and muscles will help keep your feet and ankles strong as you log long miles. Bone health is important for reducing your risk of stress fractures.
Foot Pain When Running? Contact Us Today!
There are many reasons you might enjoy running. After all, this activity provides a plethora of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
No matter your reason(s) for running, this is something we want you to be able to do pain-free!
If you would like more information on how orthotics can help prevent running injuries—or you are ready to put the pain behind you and find the relief you need with professional foot and ankle care—contact Brook Valley Podiatry by calling (845) 352-7507.