I learned it all the hard way.
The foundation of my body, kinetic chain — and since I am married to my active lifestyle — sanity, lies in my feet. Not only do I write about fitness and gallivanting around the world, I’m a sponsored athlete and fitness model. A foot goes down and my entire livelihood is at stake.
Feet contain more than a quarter of the body’s bones, connected by a matrix of joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, tethered to the similarly complex ankles, working together to provide support and mobility to the whole body. Misuse of this all-important system can lead to problems.
And wouldn’t I know it! I’ve had three lower-body surgeries stemming from foot issues:
- Six military years running around in nonsupportive combat boots turned my high arches into flat feet, launching an arduous chain of injury up and down my system, “ending” in surgery and six months down.
- Two years later, compensating for post-surgery tightness, not regaining full range of motion and changing my foot strike led to a mild knee but major hip injury — right hip and femur surgery! Another six months out of commission.
- Last but not least, a bone spur sticking through my big toe tendon (flexor hallucis longus, or FHL) had me in the operating room again: bone reshaped, scar tissue adhesions removed and the tendon stitched back together. Five months down.
The crazy part is this: All I’d probably needed to prevent this disastrous chain of events was a proper pair of supportive insoles or orthotics back in the day. Now I can never be without them.
Also, working with sports doctors and physical therapists — they get it and tend to take an integrative approach — is important, as is preventative maintenance and proper rest.
I’m the girl who had three toenails pulled and the nail beds soaked in acid so they’d never grow back because they “were in the way.” You bet your ass I am going to take any step I can to ensure success!
The following tactics have me feeling confident I’ll meet my future racing, hiking, climbing and functional-fitness goals head-on and not dead on my feet. At least I still have jokes!
The latest studies show that enhanced comfort is the only proven method of injury prevention related to footwear. Don’t shoot the messenger, high-heel lovers. No brainer: Make sure nothing hurts.
Proper Footwear/Support: Put your “best foot forward” with properly fitted shoes, and don’t be shy to ask for help. I highly recommend you consider a comfort-enhancing performance insole for most of your shoes. I like currexSole across the board for running, walking, biking and the gym. The technology and research behind these inserts is cutting edge, but the price is not. Think of a great insole as the marriage between foot and shoe; you want that bond tight.
Get Supple: A micro-tear in my Achilles kept me out of the game five months after my 2013 New York City Marathon. Again, use my lessons learned to your advantage; flexibility is a must. Because I test gear for a fitness tech column, I get to try a lot of goodies and these two landed in my daily routine. Trigger Point’s Nano roller morning and night releases fascia and lengthens arch tissue. It travels with me and feels like a massage. Using ProStrech Plus at least twice a day increases flexibility along my entire interconnective chain. It’s especially good for tight calves and Achilles tendons.
Shoes should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. I move the currexSoles over to the new pair, as they last up until they show visible wear, which usually doesn’t happen until pair three. The following are some other PT-approved habits I’ve found very helpful:
Strengthen: Weak feet and ankles can contribute to fallen arches and knee, hip, back, shoulder and neck problems. The color-coded Thera-Band resistive-exercise system is inexpensive, requires only a chair or floor and has foolproof instructions, making this “workout” accessible to anyone. These are my SportsCenter and Game of Thrones companions.
Compression: I typically run, lift legs and attack functional workouts in compression socks. There are many reputable brands out there, and I really like Zamst. The run and full compression socks provide anatomically correct support, an arch-supporting fabric weave and technology that enhances ventilation. The full sock provides gradual compression up through the calf muscle, encouraging blood flow to flush out lactic acid, reduce fatigue and ease shinsplints.
I ensure my feet are comfy and supported even when not working out with insoles in my daily “walk-around shoes” and colorful recovery footwear. I have a fleet of Oofos and Telic shoes and sandals. My postworkout recovery is enhanced with these methods:
RICE: Rest, ice, compression and elevation, done right, is the holy grail of recovery. I quit using the bags of frozen veggies when I found Ice-Sox and an inexpensive Wal-Mart cold therapy pack I grabbed while traveling. Ice-Sox’s built-in ice-pack pockets hold the cold in place to reduce soreness and inflammation while addressing compression. Both these products add a protective layer between ice and skin to prevent tissue damage.
Stimulation: Circulation, notoriously lacking in feet, promotes recovery. I bring in my pal Marc Pro to help. Electrodes attached to the skin deliver a current to dilate vessels, allowing blood flow to nourish damaged tissue and flushing out waste. If the Marc Pro is out of your budget, moving around and drinking plenty of water help circulation, and I also swear by my standing Rebel Desk that encourages me to shift often as I work.
For us active folk — whether chasing personal records or chasing kids — the mental anguish of being sidelined can hurt as much as the physical. Foot precautions and exercises can (do!) feel tedious but are worth the time investment and mental boost that comes from being 100 percent healthy and pain-free while you crush your goals.