Happy Feet
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Happy Feet

Happy Feet

by T.J. Murphy

A few weeks ago, a running buddy of mine treated himself to a "reflexology" foot massage. He was doing some serious marathon training, running upwards of 80 miles per week, and figured that it was a smart move in preventative foot care. When I asked him how it went, his eyes glazed over, like spinning pinwheels, as he rapturously described the 90 minute session of having someone attend his feet and his feet only. It was as if he was telling me about two weeks spent at a luxury resort in Maui.

It's remarkable how well our feet carry the load of running, considering both the complexity of the foot (a symphony of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons in each) and the force demands of the assignment (words like pounding, shearing, friction, wear and tear all apply). Yet, we all know it takes just one blister or irritated nerve to render our morning run a miserable experience.

A host of flaring ailments that dog a runner's dogs can be prevented and handled with a few minutes a day spent attending smartly to your own feet.

Trim Your Nails
You can't appreciate the joy of not having an ingrown toenail until you get one. Should you fail to properly trim your toenails, such a predicament may be your fate when the nail punctures the skin. Especially vulnerable to this malady are the big toes.

To prevent ingrown nails, clip the nails straight across rather than in an arc. Don't cut them too short. Both practices invite an ingrown nail.

While it's smart to cut your nails before a race (usually prompted by an experience with a black toenail), cut them the night before rather than the morning of the race.

Maintain a Dry Environment
Blisters are nuisance number one when it comes to problems that can nag you. They are best prevented by vigilantly keeping your feet as dry as possible when you run and by wearing shoes that fit the shape of your foot well.

Fungal and bacterial foot problems are also a result of a damp and warm foot environment. To ward off fungus, change your shoes and socks often and keep your feet clean and dry. Pay special attention to the spaces between your toes. If fungus is a chronic problem, consider using a foot powder on a daily basis.

While sweat around the foot increases the likelihood of a blister through increased friction, so too does dry skin. By daily massaging your feet with a lotion you'll not only benefit from a good rub, but also keep the skin moist and free from itching and burning.

Don't Skimp on Socks
It's healthy for a runner to develop a fetish for good running shoes, and for good running socks as well. It's a wise investment to take on a search for the perfect sock. Avoid cotton, as cotton will soak up your sweat and keep it, creating the moist environment that should be avoided.

The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends using a sock like Thorlos running socks, which are reinforced with cushioning pads and use acrylic fibers that wick away moisture. To further reduce blister-causing friction, experiment with dabs of petroleum jelly or Body Glide on your foot's hotspots.

Shoe Fit
You probably select running shoes according to your biomechanical needs and preferences on cushioning. As vital as any shoe technology-and probably more so-is the fit of the shoe on your foot. Make sure the heel counter fits comfortably yet snugly enough that there's no slippage, and that the shoe grasps you securely around the mid-foot but not so tight that your foot bulges over the sides of the midsole. A key mistake in fitting is often made with the toe box. If you don't provide a little breathing room for your toes-about 3/8-1/2 inch of space from the end of the shoe-then you expose yourself to irksome troubles like hammertoe, black toenails and calcium spurs.

Be careful not to cram your foot into shoes too small, and conversely, you also want to avoid a shoe that fits too sloppily. A shoe too wide or long will spark a fresh crop of blisters and render the shoe's stability properties worthless.

First Aid for Blisters
As far as dealing with blisters when you get them, the standard recommendation for a small blister is to fit a piece of moleskin around it. Cut a hole in the moleskin, like a donut, and center it around the blister. This will give it air and keep it from chafing, so that it will dry out and go away.

For a large blister, scrub up your hands with soap and water, lance it with an alcohol-sterilized needle, drain the blister, then apply a fresh bandage. Diabetics should have a doctor handle this procedure.

Foot Exercises
A few simple exercises will help strengthen and protect your feet. The first three are easy and convenient enough to be performed daily.

  1. Marble grabs.

  2. Spread a handful of marbles on the floor. Use your toes to pick them up and slam dunk them into a bowl.
  3. Arch massage.

  4. Using a golf ball, a rolling pin, or, even better, one of the specialized logs or wheels for runners, spend a few minutes each day (while watching TV, for example) to roll out the stress in your plantar fascia.
  5. Towel curls.

  6. Drop a towel to the floor and use your toes to pick it up and curl the towel inward. About five to 10 curls a day is a good way to prevent toe cramps.
  7. Beach stroll.

  8. When at the lake or the ocean, go for a barefoot walk on the sand. It's a good way to strengthen toe muscles and also a therapeutic measure.
  9. Water running.

  10. Using an Aquajogger, add some toe pointing and foot flexes-holding each position for about 10 seconds-to your water run for some extra hydrotherapy.

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