Relief for Exercising Feet

Don't let foot problems sideline your fitness goals.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You've finally started that exercise program, and you're beginning to feel the excitement of a healthy new lifestyle.

But just as you're getting into the workout "zone," you're sidelined with achy feet -- corns, calluses, blisters, maybe even an injury that not only compromises your fitness goals but can make even waiting for the bus feel like you're standing on a bed of nails.

"The small foot problems that probably don't make much of difference at other times can suddenly become a very big deal when you begin putting significant stress on your feet, as you do when you're starting an exercise program," says podiatrist Dominic Catanese, DPM, director of the Podiatry Service at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

And if you suffer from diabetes, experts say, even seemingly insignificant foot woes can turn into major medical problems if you're not careful.

"When blood sugar isn't under good control you can develop neuropathy -- a lack of feeling in the feet that can prevent you from recognizing both the early warning signs of trouble, as well as when the problems themselves occur," says Morris Morin, DPM, chairman of the Department of Podiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

This, combined with compromised circulation in the lower extremities, can also make it harder for even a simple foot injury to heal. "It can end up sidelining you for weeks or even months," says Morin.

The good news is that over time, feet can get used to new stresses, allowing skin to grow thicker and tougher so fewer problems occur.

In the meantime, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of common workout-related foot problems and keep your feet feeling healthy and happy.

To help you put your best foot forward, WebMD asked three top foot specialists for advice. Here are five things they said you should know.

1. Don't Skimp on Footwear

It's hard to walk through you favorite discount emporium and not stop at those tables of sneakers piled high, selling for such a low price. But buy them, say experts, and your feet will pay.

"There definitely is a difference in sneakers, and if you are serious enough about your health to start an exercise program, you have to be serious enough to invest in good footwear, and doing so will help you avoid many injuries," says Ken Plancher, MD, director of Plancher Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in New York and Greenwich, Conn.

Here's what Plancher says you should look for:

  • Check for solid construction with a flexible toe bed (your shoe bends when your foot bends), a strong heel counter (the area that hugs the back of your foot), and most important, padded insoles and arch support.
  • Look for a "cross trainer" shoe, which works for all-around athletic wear.
  • Shop in an athletic footwear store, where a clerk should not only measure your feet, but also ask about any biomechanical problems such as flat feet, or weak or pronating ankles, before suggesting styles.

Catanese adds that the sneakers should also feel good - wide enough to accommodate your foot without pressure, and the right length.

"When shoes are either too short or so long they allow the foot to slide forward, you get a slight tapping of the toes against the tip," says Catanese.

Normally, our feet can take it. But once you start working out, adding thousands more steps to your daily routine, all that tapping adds up.

"It causes a problem known as subungal hematoma, or bleeding under the nail, one of the most common workout related foot problems we see," says Catanese.

Often causing significant pain, this frequently requires medical care, including drilling into the nail to release the fluids.

"It's a lot easier to get a good-fitting pair of shoes," he says.

While experts say it's smart to break in a pair of shoes around the house before wearing them during your workout, Plancher says they should "feel like heaven" from the moment you slip them on. If they don't, keep looking.

2: Sock It to Me, Baby

While shoes are important, experts say the No. 2 cause of workout- related foot problems is wearing the wrong socks. Because socks provide the cushion between your skin and your shoe, they can either prevent or cause friction that eventually leads to irritation, and sometimes injury.

"If socks are too thick, rough in texture, too tight, or too loose, that friction multiplies and so does your risk of foot problems," says Morin.