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Foot Injuries from Running: Tips to Avoid Them

common foot injuries from running


Running is a popular activity or form of exercise that is known for its numerous health benefits. It can improve cardiovascular health and boost mental well-being. However, the repetitive impact and stress on the feet can lead to various injuries that affect runners, from beginners to elite athletes. Understanding the common foot injuries from running, their causes, and prevention strategies is crucial for every runner. 

This knowledge not only helps in avoiding injuries but also ensures a safe and enjoyable running experience. As we delve into the anatomy of the foot, common running foot injuries, and best practices for prevention and treatment, remember that awareness and early action can significantly reduce the likelihood of serious injuries, keeping you on track toward your running goals.

Anatomy and Structure of the Foot

The human foot is a complex structure composed of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is designed to provide balance, support, and mobility. With 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the foot is capable of a wide range of movements, essential for running and handling various terrains.

Bones and Joints

The foot is divided into three main parts: the forefoot, midfoot, and hindfoot. The forefoot consists of the five toes (phalanges) and the five longer bones (metatarsal bones). The midfoot is a pyramid-like collection of bones that form the arches of the foot, providing stability and flexibility. The hindfoot comprises the heel (calcaneus) and the ankle (talus), which connect to the lower leg bones and form the ankle joint, which is crucial for motion and support.

Muscles and Tendons

Muscles and tendons in the footwork in harmony to control movement. The Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the heel, is important for running, allowing for the push-off motion. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue running across the bottom of the foot, supports the arch, and absorbs shock.

Role in Running

During running, the foot acts as a shock absorber and a lever. The arches flatten and recoil with each step, absorbing impact and storing energy for the next push-off. This complex system is why the foot’s structure and health are critical for efficient and injury-free running.

Common Foot Injuries from Running

Running is beneficial for health and fitness but can put significant stress on the feet, leading to various potential injuries. Recognizing these common conditions and their symptoms is essential for early detection and effective treatment, allowing runners to maintain their performance and enjoy their runs safely.

Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common ankle injuries in runners, resulting from the foot twisting or rolling in an unnatural manner. This sudden movement can stretch or tear the ligaments that support the ankle. The tear can lead to immediate ankle pain and discomfort.

How does it Feel? Symptoms of an ankle sprain include immediate, sharp pain at the site of the injury, followed by swelling and bruising. The affected area may feel tender to the touch, and the severity of the pain can vary, significantly impacting stability and walking ability. Runners might notice a limited range of motion in the ankle, making it difficult to bear weight on the affected foot.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury characterized by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Research says Plantar fasciitis affects roughly 10% of the general population, making it a common concern among runners and non-runners alike.

How does it Feel? The hallmark symptom of plantar fasciitis is a sharp, stabbing pain in the bottom of the heel, particularly noticeable with the first steps in the morning or after sitting for extended periods. The pain may decrease after a few steps but can return after long periods of standing or when standing up after sitting.

Stress Fracture

Stress fractures are small cracks in a bone caused by repetitive force or overuse, such as the repeated impact of running on hard surfaces.

How does it Feel: A stress fracture in the foot presents as deep, aching, and intense pains with weight-bearing activities and lessens with rest. The area over the fracture may be swollen and tender to the touch. Runners may notice the pain becomes progressively worse over time if not properly treated.

Morton’s Neuroma

Morton’s neuroma involves the thickening of tissue around one of the nerves leading to the toes, often between the third and fourth toes. This condition can worsen by tight shoes or repetitive impact.

How does it Feel? Symptoms include a sharp, burning pain or a feeling of numbness in the ball of the foot. The sensation can also resemble standing on a pebble or folding in a sock. Some runners experience a burning sensation or numbness that radiates to the adjacent toes.

Hallux Rigidus

Hallux rigidus is a type of degenerative arthritis that affects the joint at the base of the big toe, leading to stiffness and pain in the toe.

How does it Feel? This condition causes a painful and stiff big toe, making it difficult to bend the toe up or down. The pain and stiffness may worsen during cold or damp weather and can be worsened by physical activity such as running, which puts additional strain on the joint.


Metatarsalgia is an inflammation at the ball of the foot, leading to pain and discomfort in the metatarsal area, which is the part of the foot just before the toes.

How does it Feel? Runners with metatarsalgia experience a sharp, aching, or burning pain in the ball of their foot. The pain might worsen when standing, walking, or running and might feel like walking on pebbles.

Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction

This condition affects the posterior tibial tendon, which is crucial for supporting the foot arch. Dysfunction can lead to flatfoot and other issues.

How does it Feel? Common symptoms include pain on the inside of the foot and ankle, along with swelling. The pain may worsen with activity, and runners may notice a gradual flattening of the arch, leading to instability and discomfort while running.

Achilles Tendinopathy (Tendinitis)

Achilles tendinopathy refers to the inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the large tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone.

How does it Feel? It typically causes a mild ache to severe pain just behind the heel or along the tendon. The pain often begins as a mild discomfort after running or exercising and may progress to severe pain that interferes with daily activities.

Causes and Risk Factors of Foot Injuries from Running

Causes and Risk Factors of Foot Injuries from Running

According to studies, foot injuries from running make up around 10 percent to 20 percent of all running-related injuries. This is influenced by a combination of overuse, individual anatomy, and external factors. Understanding these can help runners take preventative measures and reduce their risk of injury. 


The most common foot injuries from running is overuse. Repeatedly subjecting the feet to high-impact forces without adequate rest can lead to stress on bones, tendons, and ligaments. Over time, this stress can cause common overuse injuries such as stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and tendinopathies.

Structural Defect

Individual anatomical differences play a significant role in injury risk. Variations in foot structure, such as flat feet or high arches. This variation can alter the distribution of weight and pressure across the foot, leading to an increased risk of injuries. For instance, individuals with flat feet may be more prone to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, while those with high arches might experience more instances of metatarsalgia.

Insufficient Bone Strength

Bone density and strength are critical in resisting the impact forces generated during running. Insufficient bone strength can result from inadequate nutrition. This can cause specific medical conditions that increase the risk of stress fractures.

Weak Muscles

Weakness in the foot and lower leg muscles can contribute to foot injuries. These muscles help stabilize the foot and absorb shock with each step. When they are weak, there is increased strain on the bones, joints, and ligaments, raising the risk of injuries like ankle sprains and achilles tendinopathy.

Improper Running Form

Running technique significantly impacts how forces are distributed through the foot and lower extremities. Improper form, such as overstriding, heel striking, or not using the foot’s natural arch effectively, can increase the risk of injury. These biomechanical inefficiencies can lead to excessive stress on specific parts of the foot, contributing to the risk of plantar fasciitis and stress fractures.

Running on Hard Surfaces and Long Distances

The surface on which one runs, such as running trails vs running paved paths, and the distance covered are significant contributing factors to foot injuries. Running trails often offer softer, more varied terrain, which can reduce the impact on the feet compared to the hard surfaces of paved paths.

Concrete and asphalt do not absorb shock effectively, thereby increasing the impact and stress on the feet. This distinction between running trails and paved paths is crucial for runners to consider, as it can influence the risk of overuse injuries.

Similarly, rapidly increasing running distance without adequate conditioning can overload the feet’s capacity to absorb shock, whether on trails or paved surfaces, leading to a higher risk of injuries. Balancing the type of running surface with proper progression in distance and intensity is key to minimizing the risk of foot injuries.

Precautions and Best Practices to Avoid Foot Injuries From Running

Preventing foot injuries from running requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on proper preparation, technique, and equipment. By adopting the following best practices, runners can reduce the potential risk of injury and enjoy a more fulfilling running experience.

Warm Up and Cool Down

A proper warm-up before running and cooling down afterward is crucial for preparing the muscles and joints for the impact of running and recovery, respectively. Begin with dynamic stretches to increase blood flow and flexibility, focusing on the lower body and gradually incorporating the entire body. After running, cool down with gentle stretching to help the muscles relax and recover, reducing the risk of injury.

Review your Running Technique

Good running form can reduce the risk of foot injuries by ensuring that forces are distributed evenly across the foot and lower extremities. Work with a running coach or utilize video analysis to review your running form. Focus on maintaining a relaxed posture, landing softly with each step, and ensuring your feet land directly under your body to minimize impact forces.

Wearing Proper Running Shoes

The right pair of running shoes can make a significant difference in preventing foot injuries, highlighting the dangers of improper footwear. Shoes that lack adequate support or cushioning or do not fit well can worsen the risk of injuries by failing to protect the feet during the impact of running. Proper footwear should be tailored to your foot type and running style, ensuring that each step is supported and cushioned effectively.

Getting Custom Orthotic

For runners with specific foot conditions or structural anomalies, custom orthotics can provide additional support and correct biomechanical imbalances. Consult with a podiatrist or a specialist in sports medicine to determine if orthotics could benefit you and to get a pair that is tailored to your needs.

Gradual Progression

Avoid increasing your running distance or intensity too quickly. Follow the 10% rule, where you increase your running volume by no more than 10% per week. This gradual progression allows your body to adapt to the increased demands without overloading your feet and risking injury.

Consider the Running Surface

Considering your running surface can help minimize the risk of overuse injuries. Alternate between softer surfaces like trails or tracks and harder surfaces to allow your body to adapt to different impacts and reduce the strain on your feet.

Treatment Options for Foot Injuries from Running

Treatment Options for Foot Injuries from Running

When foot injuries occur, timely and appropriate treatment is crucial for a quick and effective recovery. Understanding the range of treatment options can help runners address injuries promptly. This can help minimize downtime and prevent further complications. Here’s an overview of the primary treatments for foot injuries from running.

RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)

The RICE method is a widely recommended initial treatment for acute injuries, including those to the foot. It involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

  • Rest: Take a break from running and any activity that puts weight or stress on the injured foot to prevent further damage.
  • Ice: Apply ice to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, to reduce swelling and pain. Avoid applying ice directly to the skin to prevent frostbite.
  • Compression: Use an elastic compression bandage around the injured area to help decrease swelling and immobilize the injury, aiding in the healing process.
  • Elevation: Elevate the injured foot above heart level whenever possible to reduce swelling.

NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

Anti-inflammatory medications can be effective for pain and inflammation. However, they should be used judiciously and for a short duration, as overuse can impede the healing process of certain injuries.


Massage therapy can be beneficial for certain types of foot injuries, especially those involving muscle strain or tightness. Techniques such as deep tissue massage can help improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and promote healing. However, massage should be avoided in areas where there is acute inflammation or a suspected fracture.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a cornerstone in the treatment and rehabilitation of running-related foot injuries. A physical therapist can provide targeted exercises to strengthen the muscles around the foot, improve flexibility, and correct biomechanical imbalances contributing to injury. Additionally, therapists may use modalities like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or taping to further aid in recovery.

Surgery (if Needed)

In cases where nonsurgical treatments fail or the injury is severe (such as a complex fracture or a torn tendon), surgery may be necessary. Surgical interventions aim to repair the damaged structures and restore function. Post-surgery, a rehabilitation program is essential for a full recovery and return to running.

How crucial is it for runners to promptly address these injuries?

Immediate attention to foot injuries is crucial for runners to prevent complications and ensure a quick return to running. Delaying treatment can worsen injuries. This can affect recovery time and potentially lead to chronic conditions that could permanently impact running performance. Early intervention stops the progression of injuries, shortens recovery periods, and helps avoid the development of long-term issues. It also guarantees a safer return to running, reducing the risk of re-injury. 

Addressing injuries as soon as they occur is vital for maintaining long-term health and achieving sustained performance. Runners are encouraged to promptly seek professional advice to receive the appropriate care and guidance necessary for a full and efficient recovery, thereby preserving their ability to continue enjoying running without facing prolonged setbacks.

Don’t Let Foot Injuries Stop You From Running, Consult Backcountry PT

When faced with foot injuries from running, it’s easy to feel discouraged. However, the journey to recovery doesn’t have to be navigated alone. Consulting with professionals like those at Backcountry PT can make a significant difference. These experts specialize in sports injuries, offering personalized running injury treatment plans that address the root cause of your injury while focusing on prevention and education to keep you running in the long term.

Physical therapy Colorado Springs combines expertise in physical therapy with a deep understanding of the runner’s needs, ensuring treatments are not only about recovery but also about performance enhancement and injury prevention.


In conclusion, foot injuries from running are a common concern for avid runners. Injuries are a part of many runners’ journeys, but they don’t have to define your running experience. Taking proactive steps towards prevention, seeking prompt treatment when necessary, and embracing a holistic approach to running and health can keep your feet healthy and your strides strong. Keep running, but more importantly, keep running smartly and safely.


Can running too much cause injury?

Yes, overuse from excessive running is a common cause of running injuries. A sudden increase in distance or intensity too quickly without adequate rest and recovery can lead to injuries such as stress fractures and tendonitis.

Should I keep running if my feet hurt?

If you experience persistent foot pain while running, it’s important to rest and assess the cause of the pain. Continuing to run on an injury can worsen the painful condition. Consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Can I sprain my foot from running?

Yes, ankle sprains can occur from running, especially on uneven surfaces or if the foot lands awkwardly. Proper footwear, proper form, and being mindful of running surfaces can help prevent sprains.

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!