Whether your workout consists of a walk, strength training, running, yoga, or any other sport, your feet carry a lot of weight and responsibility for your fitness. So it’s not surprising that foot pain from exercise is common and impacts many people’s quality of life and physical fitness.(1)
Keeping feet and ankles healthy will help you avoid foot pain when exercising. But to do so, you need to know more about the common causes of foot pain, the different types of foot pain, and how you can treat and prevent it.
Where does foot pain from exercise come from?
In many types of exercise, your foot has to absorb a lot of force. If you’re doing high-impact sports like running, your body has to withstand loads of up to ten times its own body weight. This weight is absorbed by the tendons, ligaments, and muscles, and problems often occur when they’re overworked.
Common foot pain can often occur during and after your workout. Perhaps the top of your foot hurts while you’re running. Or you might suffer from stabbing pains along the bottom of the foot after periods of inactivity like sleeping.
Types of Foot Pain From Exercise
There are several factors that play a role in foot pain from exercise — like footwear, genetics, body mass, and the type of exercise you perform.(2) Narrowing down the location of where the pain is in your foot will help determine what the cause might be.
Pain in the Heel and Arch of Your Foot
This is one of the most common causes of foot and ankle pain. It’s inflammation of the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Typically an injury from overuse that causes stiffness and pain in the calf, ankle, and heel. Runners often suffer from achilles tendonitis when they increase the frequency or intensity of their runs.
Heel spurs occur when there’s a bony growth in the heel bone, causing a lot of pain. Visible in an X-ray, heel spurs are often caused by stress and strain on the foot muscles and ligaments, repeatedly tearing away the membrane that covers the heel bone. They can also be a reaction to stress and inflammation from plantar fasciitis.
A common cause of heel pain in athletes, especially in runners, is inflammation in the fibrous connective tissue (fascia) band that runs across the bottom of the foot, from the heel to the ball. The soft tissue is torn or stretched after repetitive over-extension, causing inflammation and stabbing pain in your foot.
Pain in the Ball of Your Foot
Bursitis is when sacs of fluid around the joints (called bursae) become inflamed and cause a lot of pain. Since the foot has 33 joints, there are many areas where bursitis can occur, but it is most commonly found in the ball of the foot and the back of the heel of the foot.
Metatarsalgia is when the ball of the foot is inflamed and painful, most noticeable while running and jumping. It typically feels like a sharp, burning, or aching pain in the ball of the foot, and some describe it as feeling like having a pebble in their shoe.
Morton’s neuroma is a very painful condition, occurring at the ball of the foot between the third and fourth toes. Patients complain about noticeable pain between their toes while walking, and many patients say it feels like walking with a stone in your shoe or a fold in your sock.
Pain on the Top of Your Foot
In addition to pain on the top of the foot, patients with extensor tendonitis complain about stiffness and even tingling around the foot, which usually worsens over time. The tendons become weaker and can affect your mobility.
Pain in the Toe Joint
Bunions look like a bump and form on the joint at the base of your big and little toes. This occurs when the bone at the joint moves out of place, forcing the toe to bend inwards towards the other toes causing a painful lump at the joint. The joints in your feet carry a lot of body weight and can become especially painful if left untreated.
5 Common Causes of Foot Pain From Exercise
1. Wearing The Wrong Footwear
The quality and fit of your shoes. Different types of foot pain can often be directly related to incorrectly sized footwear — those that are too narrow or don’t offer enough arch support and cushion.(3) If you’re still running in shoes that are worn down and have lost their cushion, you’re putting your feet, ankles, and knees at risk of injury like achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.
Shoes or laces that are too tight can add too much pressure to the foot and irritate tendons or joints, causing problems like extensor tendonitis and bunions.
The shape of your foot can also play a role in the proper fit of footwear — having a high arch, a flatfoot, or a bunion can affect the way the shoe fits.
The type of exercise you perform in your shoes is also important when choosing the right footwear. Choosing the right shoe should depend on the type of exercise you do and the area of the foot that is impacted the most. Aim to find a shoe that best supports your foot while performing a specific sport.
2. Skipping Your Warm-Up
The importance of warming up before exercise can be the difference between suffering from foot pain and not. If you aren’t warming up for a minimum of ten minutes before your workout, you are risking your body with some type of joint or muscle injury.
Warm-up exercises have been found to enhance muscle performance and improve balance control.(4) They’re also great for cardiovascular health.
Stop skipping your warm-up by repeating this 5-minute warm-up two times before any workout!
3. Not Stretching Before or After Your Workout
Stretching can easily be overlooked or skipped when you’re fitting your exercise routine into a busy schedule. The importance of stretching can’t be stressed enough: it can prevent foot pain and avoid injuries like plantar fasciitis that statistically lead to a very inactive lifestyle due to problems and pain.(5)
4. Poorly Developed Foot Stability and Coordination
Your foot has to compensate for what your body lacks in the way of muscle stability. Having poor foot stability and coordination causes stress which can lead to irritation and inflammation.
If you already suffer from foot pain from exercise, improving foot stability and coordination can help decrease foot pain and improve your strength. Pilates has been proven to be a great rehab for plantar fasciitis patients,(6) and exercises that promote stability and coordination — like yoga — are great for knee joint pain as well.
5. Performing High-Impact Sports & Repetitive Motion
Foot pain from running and jumping are very common types of foot pain seen in people who perform sports with a lot of repetitive motion — like ballet dancing.(7) Foot pain related to high-impact sports and repetitive motion is often caused by bursitis and metatarsalgia.
Increasing your running performance too quickly can also lead to foot pain from running. You need to progress slowly to give your muscles, ligaments, and tendons time to get used to the higher intensity. If you increase the volume or intensity too quickly, you run the risk of overloading the areas under stress.
If you want to continue performing high-impact sports, you need to take preventative measures so that you can avoid foot pain from exercise leading to more serious conditions.
Consider cutting down on how often you perform high-impact sports and adding active recovery days to your routine. This will give your body the time it needs to recover while still maintaining an active lifestyle.
How to Treat and Prevent Foot Pain From Exercise
There are a variety of remedies to treat foot pain from running and exercise. Be sure to consult a physician to discuss possible treatment options, especially if you’ve tried to treat the pain with basic rest, ice, and medication and you still experience foot pain.
As long as you are in acute pain, your foot requires rest. Follow the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) and medication to treat pain and inflammation. This allows time for the inflammation to go down and avoids developing any incorrect compensatory movements in your running form or exercise technique.
Manage the pain
If your tendon feels tight, massage the sole of your foot, or roll out the tension with a ball or foam roller. This stimulates blood flow, keeps the aponeurosis flexible, and can help relieve pain.
Opt for alternative forms of exercise
If your foot hurts, prevent further injury and find a low-impact alternative to your workout routine. Low-impact exercise includes swimming, cycling, inline skating, or aqua jogging.
Orthotics and Shoe Insoles
Orthotics can be custom fit by a professional specific to your foot shape and problem. But there are also options to purchase orthotics without a prescription by taking an online assessment to get the right fit. Orthotics can be a great investment, especially for those suffering from plantar fasciitis.(8)
Shoe insoles for foot pain can also help ease foot pain from exercise by offering extra shoe cushion and support. They’re easy to find and are designed for specific foot pain problems — like arch support, metatarsal pads, and cushions for the heel and ball of the foot.
Find the right shoes
No matter if you have foot pain from running, walking, or any other exercise, having the right shoes plays a major role in preventing injuries, including those of the knee and hip joints.
If your foot hurts during or after exercise, your running shoes might not be providing your foot with adequate support. This causes the foot to become overstrained due to the constant stress of the additional work.
In fact, long-distance running also causes the shape of the foot to change, affecting the foot’s ball width and girth, arch height, and foot volume (9). So revisiting shoe type and size is necessary to ensure the right fit as your foot evolves.
If you are suffering from heel pain after running or pain in the arch of the foot after running, look for a running shoe that gives your foot the stability it needs without restricting a dynamic style of running. When choosing the right running shoe, you have to consider:
- the type of running you do
- the duration of the run
- the shape of your foot
- any defects or foot pain that you experience
Avoid wearing footwear for too long! It’s important to know the mileage of your footwear so that you can prevent injury and foot pain from running and exercise. Track your footwear in the adidas Running app.
Stretches and strengthening exercises for foot pain
Many types of foot pain are related to tendon stiffness. When you don’t incorporate stretching into your fitness routine, you risk injuries that prevent you from exercising as often or as hard as you want to. Knowing the importance of stretching should encourage you to incorporate stretches into your regular fitness routine.
Yoga is a great way to stretch the soles of your feet and develop foot stability and coordination. Try this 8-week yoga program on the adidas Training app.
Oftentimes, foot pain from exercise can be treated and prevented through stretches and strengthening exercises specific to the foot, ankle, and lower leg muscles.
In addition to treating pain, strengthening exercises specific to the feet have been found to help strengthen muscles that can improve running performance.(10) Try these feet–strengthening exercises for the muscles of your lower legs and feet.
Taking the proper measure to prevent foot pain from exercise is very important — chronic foot pain leads to an inactive lifestyle and increases body weight.(11)
The impact that foot-related injuries have can prevent you from maintaining your fitness lifestyle and can lead to other issues like knee pain and hip joint pain.
If you currently suffer from foot pain and are in treatment, it is a good time to rethink your training and eliminate the source of the problems. Don’t start exercising again until after the symptoms have completely subsided.
Ease back into a workout routine, and give your body time to build up again to your previous level of performance. Also, make sure to schedule plenty of recovery time.