Three of the most common foot injuries runners experience

A woman running on a trail in the woods

Runners take to the trails in all seasons. Many are relentless in their training and weather minor injuries to keep going.

Running with pain is never a good idea.

Here are three of the most common foot and ankle injuries runners experience:

Runner’s toe

It’s a condition that can be unsightly. Remove your socks after a routine long run and you’ll see your toenail is a blackened blue color.

Toes can become bruised underneath the nail bed. Sometimes, if there’s enough trauma, the nail will start to fall off. The repetition of your toenail hitting the end of your shoe causes damage to the nail matrix.

How to prevent runner’s toe

  • Keep your toenails well-trimmed. Nails will be less likely to hit the end of the shoe if the nails are trimmed short.
  • Measure your feet and make sure your shoe is sized appropriately. Most Americans wear a half-size shoe that’s too small. You’re more likely to have foot issues if your shoes are too small.
  • Avoid hill running. When you’re running downhill, the pressure can create micro trauma as the foot slides forward within the shoe.

Chronic ankle instability

Chronic ankle instability can occur after a traumatic ankle sprain. When someone rolls their ankle, the ligament on the outside of the ankle can tear. Nearly 20% of sprains have prolonged symptoms.

The main symptom is an unstable ankle. For example, if you’re walking on grass or gravel, it feels like your ankle wants to roll. What often happens is you’ll have recurring sprains, which will make you hesitant to resume running when the injury keeps happening.

How to protect your ankles

Undergoing physical therapy can help build muscular balance and strengthen the supporting muscles.

If therapy fails, then I recommend surgery. Surgery involves reattaching the torn ligaments and placing a small suture tape over the repair to allow for a quick and safe recovery. Patients can expect to use a post-operative boot after surgery for two weeks, then an ankle lace up brace for eight weeks. They can return to sports around eight weeks after surgery.

Achilles tendinitis

The Achilles tendon is the greatest tendon in the body, but it also is commonly injured in athletes and runners. The tendon joins the heel bone to the muscles in your calf. Sometimes tears can happen when you push off your feet, begin sprinting or make a sudden stop-and-start movement during sports.

Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis can include swelling and/or a sharp pain in the back of the ankle, irritation in your ankle when you take the stairs, or being unable to stand on your toes.

If it’s a tear, surgery will be needed to repair the tendon. It can take weeks to months to heal, depending on the severity. High ankle injuries take significantly longer.

What to do if you have a minor foot injury

With many running related foot injuries, you should think “RICE” as the gold standard for injuries. That stands for:

  • Rest – Staying off your injured foot.
  • Ice – Put an ice pack on for 15 minutes at a time to relieve swelling and inflammation to the injury.
  • Compression – Use fabric stretch bandage to provide compression and stability to the injured area.
  • Elevation – Keep your foot above your heart when you’re sitting or reclining.

You can also take the following steps for minor injuries or aches:

  • Change up your routine with cross training. Try swimming, biking or other low-impact activities if running is uncomfortable.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Consider changing your shoes. Runners should replace their shoes depending on use. Each shoe will have a different running life depending on the quality of the material. Look at the soles of your shoes for uneven wear or eroded tread. Then it’s time to replace.
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug that works for you.
  • Think about what may have changed in your routine. Did you change the terrain you were running on? Too much on any given surface can cause problems. I recommend alternating between surfaces, if possible, such as gravel, paved trails, treadmill, etc.

If the pain doesn’t improve even with rest and changes to your routine, it’s time to see a doctor. They’ll evaluate you in detail and determine the next steps. When you’re healed, consider a run evaluation/gait analysis along with physical therapy, as poor mechanics are often to blame for injuries.

Ready to be at the top of your game?

Ohio State’s sports medicine experts are here to keep you in your game, maximize your performance and keep you healthy.

Learn more


Related websites

Subscribe. The latest from Ohio State Health & Discovery delivered right to your inbox.


Get articles and stories about health, wellness, medicine, science and education delivered right to your inbox from the experts at Ohio State.

Required fields

Tell us more about yourself

By clicking "Subscribe" you agree to our Terms of Use.
Learn more about how we use your information by reading our Privacy Policy.