When you’re running, pain is likely the last thing you want to think about. But any runner knows that when you are in pain, it’s one of the only things you can focus on. Pain in some areas is ok to run through and work out, but other types, especially foot pain, could point to a more problematic condition or issue than regular soreness. So what do you do when your feet start hurting during a run? Do you have to stop altogether?
While rest can lessen most foot pain, if the pain becomes more consistent during your runs, you might need to see your doctor or a physical therapist to figure out what might be causing it. Our run team of physical therapists at EW Motion Therapy can watch you run and help you develop a plan for improvement and pain reduction. Even if you decide our services don’t fit your needs, it is still important to be aware of conditions that can cause foot pain and what you can do to help.
This article discusses the conditions that can make your feet hurt, when you should not run through the pain, and how physical therapy can help relieve foot pain. With this information, you can properly care for your feet and ensure your pain won’t cause further injury.
What conditions can cause foot pain while running?
For runners, we’ll split common foot conditions into three broad categories: bony injuries, inflammation (plantar fasciitis), and nerve pain. Let’s discuss each and how they can affect how you run.
Most bony injuries begin presenting issues as stress fractures. It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of a stress fracture, but they often result from too much load or insufficient stability in your feet/ankles. It is important to take this pain seriously since these fractures can take you out for at least six weeks in a boot.
Inflammation (plantar fasciitis)
You may have heard of plantar fasciitis, but you may not know how it can affect how you run. The condition occurs when you do not have adequate mobility in your foot and ankle, and the bottom of the foot gets inflamed. The primary mobility restriction in someone with plantar fasciitis is at the big toe and its ability to move toward the top of the foot - to run properly, you need appropriate toe mobility. The right shoes can sometimes fix plantar fasciitis - some people need more of a cushioned shoe, but others need a more neutral or stiff shoe to promote stability.
You can get nerve pain in your big toe and first toe if you run on the balls of your feet or if your shoes’ toe boxes are too narrow. Your strides can increase pressure if your toes don’t have enough room while you run. If the pain continues and you begin to have numbness and tingling in your feet, you could be experiencing a form of neuropathy or even have a neuroma (pinched nerve) in your foot. Both neuropathy and neuromas are serious, and you should seek medical attention to ensure you get the right treatment for each condition.
When should you not run through the pain?
The golden rule for gauging pain is that if it changes your gait, you should not try to run with it or through it. Let’s say you go out for your usual morning run, and you feel some pain between your big toe and first toe that is changing how you run. In that case, you should stop the run you are on, then take a day off. If you try to run again after your day off and the pain is still intense enough to change your gait, double your time off to two days. Continue this cycle, and if the pain continues at the same level for at least two weeks, seek medical attention.
Of course, if you are having pain while walking, do not try to run. Many runners make the mistake of running through pain while they should rest, and that mindset can lead to severe injury down the road. Again, some pain is okay to run through if it goes away in the first ten minutes of a run, but rest is often the best healer if it doesn’t.
How can physical therapy help relieve foot pain while running?
Physical therapy can help with foot pain related to mobility, stability, and strength. If you have painful tissue, there is usually an underlying issue - this is what a physical therapist can diagnose from an assessment of your movement. A physical therapist can help correct the underlying problem and, in doing so, relieve current pain and prevent future pain. They can also help you determine your body’s tolerance to prevent future load-related injuries.
Physical therapists can help you maintain mobility with injuries like stress fractures, but as far as diagnosing them or issues related to an intense load, they would not be the best professionals to help. Rest is the primary thing to heal injuries of this type, and if you continue to push your body’s tolerance beyond what it can handle, it eventually will be unable to keep up.
What else can relieve foot pain?
Now you know more about why your feet may be hurting as you run. Sometimes, the best solution to foot pain can come from a new pair of shoes - your toe box may be too narrow, or the foam could be wearing down in your current shoes. You could also have the wrong pair of shoes for how you run - you need a cushion shoe if you are prone to stress fractures/other bony injuries, and you need a minimalist/stiff shoe to feel the ground if you have stability issues. You can visit a running shoe store (we recommend our friends at Trak Shak), and one of their specialists can help you find the best shoes. Additionally, anti-inflammatories, pain medication, icing, and rest are great solutions for temporary pain relief.
No runner wants to get sidelined from an injury, and the best way to prevent damage is to listen to your body and incorporate rest into your routine. If you want professional advice, a physical therapist could be a great person to have in your corner. Our team of run specialists at EW Motion Therapy love working with runners of any level to correct deficits and prevent injury so they can run for a lifetime. If you are curious about what our Run program could do for you, fill out our self-assessment to see if our services fit your needs.