Common Running Foot Injuries and Issues

Get information about these foot ailments

Runners put their feet through a lot, so it's no surprise that they end up with foot-related problems. Problems that develop that aren't due to running may also impact your comfort and ability to run. Here are some of the most common foot issues among runners.

Athlete's Foot

Woman applying ointment to foot, cropped
Odilon Dimier/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that thrives in damp sweaty places, like between your toes. You can get athlete's foot by touching the affected area on another person. More often, you can pick it up from damp, contaminated surfaces, such as a locker room floor. Once you have athlete's foot, it can be treated with over-the-counter products. But if these don't work, you should see a doctor determine if you need prescription treatment or if it is a different condition.

Allow your running shoes to dry out thoroughly between runs. Don't wear them for everyday activities. Don't keep them in a gym bag or closed the locker, let them get lots of air. It's also good to alternate two pairs of shoes to ensure they are dry and the fungus has no place to lurk.

You should wear synthetic socks made of tech fabric that wicks sweat away from your feet to keep them dry during your runs. Change out of sweaty socks immediately after exercise. Wash and thoroughly dry your feet.

Blisters

Blisters may not be a serious injury, but they are painful and they can keep you from running. Blisters are caused by friction. As your feet get wet with sweat the skin softens and leaves you more at risk. Preventative measures include ensuring a good fit for your shoes so there are less friction, moisture-wicking socks that fit well and don't have irritating seams and using lubricants or pads to further prevent friction.

Black Toenails

Runners, especially those training for long-distance events, can suffer from black toenails, more properly known as subungual hematoma. It is caused by the toes rubbing up against the front of the running shoe. This can be due to shoes that are too small or it may be due to your foot sliding forward in your shoe with each step, especially when running downhill. The nail is pushed down into the nail bed, and it becomes bruised and inflamed. The bad news is that you will often lose the nail. The good news is that it will grow back. The even better news is that you can prevent this problem by wearing shoes of the right size to accommodate the natural foot swelling that happens when you run. But you also need to learn to lace your shoes so your foot doesn't slide forward in them. As a hint, that's what those last eyelets are for next to your ankle.

Bunions

Bunions are an enlargement of the big toe joint. Under too much pressure, this joint can swell, causing the bone to stick out on the side of the foot. You may need to wear wider or bigger shoes to accommodate a bunion. Look for athletic shoes that come in wide widths and have a wider toe box. Also, shoes with minimal heel-to-toe drop will be better. Otherwise, the bunion will rub against the shoe and you will have more foot pain. You should also learn shoe acing tricks to keep the laces looser near the toe of your shoe while still tight at the ankle.

Burning Feet

Some runners experience burning on the balls of their feet, between their toes, or other areas of their feet. Burning feet while running might be a result of incorrect running shoes or socks, athlete's foot, or other health issues.

Corns

Corns are hard, painful lumps on your feet, and are caused by constant rubbing and pressure from shoes that are too tight. They are another condition that you might prevent by wearing properly sized shoes and running-specific socks.

Numbness

Numbness or a tingling sensation (unrelated to the cold weather) in the toes or foot is a common complaint among runners. Often, the cause is wearing running shoes that are too tight or tying your shoelaces too tight. But if you rule out that problem, it is important to discuss it with your healthcare provider as it could be a sign of peripheral neuropathy and even your first sign that you have diabetes.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is heel pain is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia—the tough band of tissue that supports the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. This can be an acute injury or an overuse injury. It is common for many people and not specific to runners. The bad news is that you will need to stay off your feet while it heals.

Sources:

Athlete's Foot. American Podiatric Medical Association. http://www.apma.org/Learn/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=978.

Burning Feet. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/burning-feet/basics/causes/sym-20050809.

Corns and Calluses. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/corns-and-calluses/symptoms-causes/syc-20355946.

Peripheral Neuropathy. American Podiatric Medical Association. http://www.apma.org/learn/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=1864.

Subungual Hematoma, American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. http://www.aocd.org/?page=SubungualHematoma.